Loss, Grief, and Bereavement (cont.)

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What is mourning?

As opposed to grief, which refers to how someone may feel the loss of a loved one, mourning is the outward expression of that loss. Mourning usually involves culturally determined rituals that help the bereaved individuals make sense of the end of their loved one's life and give structure to what can feel like a very confusing time. Therefore, while the internal pain of grief is a more universal phenomenon, how people mourn is influenced by their personal, familial, cultural, religious, and societal beliefs and customs. Everything from how families prepare themselves and their loved ones for death, and understand and react to the passing to the practices for preserving memories of the deceased, their funeral or memorial, burial, cremation, or other ways of handling the remains of the deceased is influenced by internal and external factors.

The length of time for a formal mourning period and sometimes the amount of bereavement leave people are allowed to take from work is determined by a combination of personal, familial, cultural, religious, and societal factors. Mourning customs also affect how bereaved individuals may feel comfortable seeking support from others as well as the appropriate ways for their friends and family to express sympathy during this time. For example, cultures may differ greatly in how much or how little the aggrieved individual may talk about their loss with friends, family members, and coworkers and may determine whether or not participating in a bereavement support group or psychotherapy is acceptable.

What are the effects of losing a loved one?

The potential negative effects of a grief reaction can be significant. For example, research shows that about 40% of bereaved people will suffer from some form of anxiety disorder in the first year after the death of a loved one, and there can be up to a 70% increase in death risk of the surviving spouse within the first six months after the death of his or her partner. For these reasons, questionnaires that assess how much stress a person is experiencing usually place the loss of a loved one at the top of the list of the most serious stresses to endure. When considering the death of a loved one, the effects of losing a pet should not be minimized. Pets are often considered another member of the family, and therefore their loss is grieved as well. Making the decision to euthanize (painlessly put to death) the family pet once a family works with their veterinarian to determine that the pet is suffering as a result of their age, specific illness, and/or general declining health can add stress to the bereavement process by leaving family members feeling guilty initially, but if done properly, can help families understand that they spared their beloved pet unnecessary suffering.

In addition to grief as an initial reaction to loss, the process can be aggravated by events that remind the bereaved individual of their loved one or the circumstances surrounding their loss. Such events are often referred to as grief triggers. Father's Day or the beginning of the school year may cause the parent who has lost a child (or a child who has lost a parent) to feel distraught. A shared song, television show, or activity can remind the widower of the wife he lost or the child of the grandparent who is no longer living. Watching another child play with a pet may reduce a child whose pet has died to tears.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/12/2014

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