What is Grief (Mourning; Grieving; Bereavement)

Grief is a natural emotional reaction to a significant loss. It is most frequently an unhappy and painful emotion triggered by the death of a loved one. When we consider grief we often associate it with terms such as sorrow and heartache. Whether the loss is a family member, close friend or the family pet, some level of grief will inherently follow.
Anticipatory grief is pretty self explanatory. This form of grief occurs prior to the actual significant loss. This most often occurs when something or someone who is close to you is dying of a degenerative or invasive disease such as cancer or AIDS. Similarly, both children and adults often feel the pain of losses brought on by an upcoming move or divorce. This anticipatory grief helps us prepare for such losses.

Statistics on Grief (Mourning; Grieving; Bereavement)

Grief does not discriminate between race, age or sex. It simply is felt by anyone touched by a significant emotional event.

Risk Factors for Grief (Mourning; Grieving; Bereavement)

Anything that leads to a significant emotional loss can lead to grief. Some examples include:

  • Loss of a loved one.
  • Imminent divorce of ones parents causes anticipatory grief.
  • Loss of a family pet.

Progression of Grief (Mourning; Grieving; Bereavement)

Uncomplicated grief is a normal response in view of the predictability of its symptoms and its course. Four stages of bereavement have been hypothesised.

Stage 1

An early phase of acute despair characterised by numbness and protest. Denial may be immediate, outbursts of anger and distress are common. The stage may last moments to days and may be periodically revisited by the grieving person throughout the mourning process.

Stage 2

A phase of intense yearning and searching for the person who has died. It is characterised by a physical restlessness and an all-consuming preoccupation with the deceased. The phase may last several months or even years in an attenuated form.

Stage 3

Described as the phase of disorganisation and despair, the reality of the loss begins to sink in. A sense of going through the motions of living is dominant, and the grieving person appears to be withdrawn, apathetic, and listless. Insomnia and weight loss often occur, as does a feeling that life has lost its meaning. The grieving person constantly relives memories of the deceased, an associated inevitable feeling of disappointment occurs when the bereaved person recognises that memories are just memories.

Stage 4

A phase of reorganisation, during which the acutely painful aspects of grief begin to recede and the grieving person begins to feel like returning to life. The deceased person is now remembered with a sense of joy as well as sadness, and the image of the lost person becomes internalised.

How is Grief (Mourning; Grieving; Bereavement) Diagnosed?

  • Prolonged symptoms of Grief may progress onto a diagnosis of clinical depression.
  • Physiological signs of depression may already be present, such as lack of interest, sadness, tearfulness, and sleep and appetite disturbance.

Prognosis of Grief (Mourning; Grieving; Bereavement)

Grieving has a number of stages to progress through before one can reach acceptance. The process can can as little as a month to up to and beyond a year. With a strong supportive family and friends unit a sufferer will be able to cope, recover and accept in their own time.

How is Grief (Mourning; Grieving; Bereavement) Treated?

Emotional support for the grieving process is usually provided by family and friends. Sometimes outside factors can influence the normal grieving process, and outside help from clergy, social workers, mental health specialists, or self-help groups may be required. Family and friends are not always enough but they should always be there to support.
The acute phase of grief can usually last up to 2 months, but some residual milder symptoms may extend a year or longer. Psychological counseling may benefit a person suffering from absent grief reaction, or from depression associated with grieving. If sleep deprivation or high stress levels result a short-term prescription of sedative medication my be helpful but can only be subscribed by your GP.

Grief (Mourning; Grieving; Bereavement) References

  1. Downs NS, Zisook S (2000). Death, dying, and bereavement. In BI Sadock, VA Sadock, eds., Kaplan and Sadock’s Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 7th ed., vol. 2, pp. 1963-1981. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  2. Kato PM, Mann T (1999). A synthesis of psychological intervention for the bereaved. Clinical Psychology Review, 19(3): 275-296.
  3. Prigerson HG, et al. (1999). Consensus criteria for traumatic grief. British Journal of Psychiatry, 175: 67-73.

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