Overview of Grief & Bereavement

Hands clasped together as for prayer

When we go through changes in our lives, we can go through a process of grief and loss.  This can happen most dramatically when someone we love dies, but it can help to be mindful of the fact that other changes in life (such as divorce, moving to a new city, loss of a pet, loss of our job, or loss of our health) can bring about strong emotions and reactions.  Getting information and support to understand and help ourselves, and those close to us, can be key factors in being able to cope with, learn through and perhaps even grow through difficult experiences.  GriefLink was created precisely to help people find support, education and comfort in some of the most difficult and painful times in their lives.

A key question or lens we can hold up to a loss we, or others are dealing with is, “What does this loss mean to this person at this time in his or her life?”  The power and depth of the emotions we can experience may feel overwhelming, but our society can give us contradictory messages, as though we “shouldn’t” feel the way we do.  We may feel that people around us want us to “get over it.”  We never get over the loss of someone we love, just as our feelings of love or care for a person do not go away.  Over time, the feelings can have less intensity, but it is not abnormal to still long for someone who is no longer with us in physical form.

Grief can affect us in mind, body and spirit.  Our ability to concentrate and process information might be compromised for a time, especially when a death happens unexpectedly or suddenly.  This challenge won’t last forever, but can be concerning to people who have a capable mind under normal circumstances.  Grief can be physical as well- our heart aches, we physically yearn for someone’s physical presence and contact, we can have trouble taking a deep breath, or breathe too shallowly.  Spiritually, we may feel some confusion that questions our beliefs in what is fair or just or loving.  We might feel guilty at being angry with God or whatever our faith tradition has told us.

It is so important at times such as these to find the best kinds of support that fit our own personality and learning style.  Over almost two decades of walking along with people through their grief, I have seen two things work best - education & support.

Education about grief means books, articles, pamphlets, programs or presentations, etc.  This kind of information gives us a frame of reference to help us understand that what we are experiencing is normal, even when it does not feel normal to us.

Support can mean many things such as one-on-one work with a grief therapist, counselor or coach.  It can also mean finding a support group in which you can hear from others who are experiencing a similar loss and learn by both listening and sharing your insights.  When people have a variety of supports to help them on this process, it can bring invaluable help in the toughest of times. Have a look at "How to choose a Grief Professioinal of Support Group" on this site.

We can tend to judge what we are doing and feeling during grief - “I shouldn’t be crying this much” or “I haven’t cried today. Does that mean I didn’t love him/her?”  This is a time to choose to give yourself good and gentle care and for you to avail yourself of everything that can help you in this process of grief.

The professionals categorize types of grief:

  • anticipatory grief is when you are anticipating the loss that you will have once the loss actually occurs, such as when someone is seriously ill, you are about to be divorced, you are soon to move to another community, etc.
  • complicated grief is when the feelings of loss are debilitating and don't seem to improve over time. 
  • disenfranchised grief is grief that someone has but it is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, publicly mourn ed or socially supported.  Disenfranchised grievers may feel that they don not have the right to grief and feel abaondoned or isolted in thier pain.

Grief resulting from someone taking their own life can be very difficult.  If this applies to you or someone you know, you may wish to visit our page on traumatic loss.

Often we wonder how we can best help a friend or relative who is grieving.  See our page on suggestions for helping grieving people for more information on this topic.  Children grieve too, but people often are not sure how to best help children who are grieving.  Our child grief page provides some help and sources of additional help.