8.1 Defining Loss, Grief, & Bereavement

What is Grief?

Grief is the psychological, emotional, physical and social, reaction to loss (Caddell, 2021; CAMH, n.d.). Although the experience of grief is unique to each individual person, there are some commonalities (Grief – How to support the bereaved, n.d.). Some common reactions associated with grief include: “shock, disbelief and confusion; anger; trouble concentrating and focusing on tasks; altered patterns of eating and sleeping; physical changes such as dizziness, headaches or upset stomach; sadness and yearning; memories and thoughts about who or what has been lost; and withdrawing from usual activities” (CAMH, n.d., para. 4).


Elderly woman with glasses crying and wiping eyes with tissue
An older women crying.

What is Mourning?

The outward expression of grief is referred to as mourning. There are individual, cultural, and religious variations in terms of the physical manifestations of grief (See Chapter on Cultural and Religious Beliefs and Death-Related Practices). Common forms of mourning include: “crying, and expressing grief through art or writing, rituals, and/or religious practices such as prayer” (CAMH, n.d., para. 6).


woman in dress kneeling on grass with arm on a gravestone. The gravestone is in the shape of a cross, and there are flowers at the base of it.
Women kneeling in front of a gravestone.

What is Bereavement?

Bereavement is the period of sadness and sense of loss felt after experiencing a loss in one’s life. The loss does not necessarily have to involve death. Instead, bereavement can follow other life transitions or change events, such as the ending of significant relationships (e.g., with spouse or friend) or a relocation of oneself or others to a new area or type of living situation. It can also be tied to loss of parts of oneself, due to changes in life circumstances or physical/psychological health. Both mourning and grief are “part of the bereavement process” (Kakar & Oberoi, 2016, p. 371). While bereavement is the broader term used to refer to the internal process that an individual experiences following a loss of any kind, grief is a part of the pain and suffering that constitutes bereavement following a loss (Kakar & Oberoi, 2016).


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On Death and Dying Copyright © 2022 by Jacqueline Lewis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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