What is the difference between grief, bereavement, and mourning?
Often times, we hear the words “mourning”, “grieving”, and “bereavement” used interchangeably. However, there are significant differences between these terms. Bereavement or Bereaved refers to the state of being bereaved or deprived of something or someone. Bereavement describes the objective situation that the family and friends who have experience a loss of some person or thing that they valued. For example, instead of telling a co-worker that you just lost your mother to breast cancer, you can simply tell them, “I took bereavement leave” or “I’m bereaved”. Grieving or Grief is the term that indicates one’s reactions to loss. Grief signifies one’s reactions, both internally and externally, to the impact of loss; crying, lack of sleep, lack of concentration, loss of desire in prior interests, etc. For example, if someone saw you crying while looking at pictures of your father who passed in a motor vehicle accident, you would simply tell them that you are grieving the loss of your father. Mourning or to Mourn is the term that describes your efforts to begin rebuilding yourself and your environment in the absence of your loved one. Taking leisure learning courses, learning how to change a tire, learning how to be a caregiver and breadwinner, and learning how to manage your grief so that you can function in the new routine are examples of mourning. Here is one sentence to explain all three terms :
Attending support groups or counseling is a sign that the bereaved is working through their grief and is now beginning to mourn the loss of a loved one.
How do I know I need help?
Reassurance from others who have also experienced grief and an understanding of what people have commonly undergone when grieving can be a helpful yardstick. Any continued fears or anxieties about your well being or thoughts of self-harm should be addressed by seeking help. Prolonged intense emotion or obsessive thought or behavior that makes functioning difficult may also require help.
Do the stages of grief apply to everyone?
Grief does not follow a linear pattern. It is more like a roller coaster, two steps forward and one step back. Ultimately people manage to integrate the experience to the point of having a new life arising from the old. The loss remains and is always remembered, but the intensity is no longer disabling or disorganizing.
Much of grieving is about expressing emotion- some may be unfamiliar, and unacceptable to self or others, e.g., rage, guilt, or remorse. Finding a safe place and an accepting person for support to work through all the effects of bereavement is important. The amount of support available from family and friends may be limited if they too are grieving. Misunderstandings can arise when people are at different points within the grief experience. External supports may then become a vital factor in surviving and continuing on. It is important to know that you can survive the experience and that the new life that eventually comes about may have very positive effects despite the difficulty of arriving at this point.
Does counseling help?
It is important to say that grief is a normal response to loss and that people frequently get through with the loving support of family and friends. Assistance during the time of loss doesn’t necessarily have to come in the form of “professional help”. You have support systems such as close friends, mentors, teachers, ministers and co-workers who could very well provide the voice of reason or just a willing ear to help you process and prevail during your time of grief. However, for a variety of reasons it may be necessary to seek professional help in the form of counseling.
Counseling may initially intensify painful feelings as the external distractions are removed and the client is able to focus on their experiences and explore them fully. People who are grieving may need to talk about their story over and over again and are often concerned about the ‘wear out’ factor on family and friends, especially if details are very distressing. Equally, they may find that others have unrealistic expectations of their recovery or experiences. Where people have to continue on in roles as parents or caregivers, it may provide valuable time-out for their own need to grieve and receive support. A supportive, safe, and accepting environment and time set aside regularly can make a great difference. It may provide comfort and hope at a time of great confusion and crisis.