Grief and Bereavement

Grief and bereavement

Bereavement and Grief

Bereavement refers to a loss. It commonly refers to the loss of a loved one by death, but it could also include the loss of employment due to retrenchment or retirement, loss of a partner due to divorce or loss of a pet. Grief describes the psychological and emotional processes that accompany the bereavement.

Normal Grief

John Bowlby, who was a pioneer in the theory of attachment and separation in children, applied his theories to bereavement and loss. With his colleague Colin Murray Parkes, he broke down this natural adaptive response into four phases or stages:

Numbness and shock

This is the phase where the loss does not seem real. They might have heard the news but the message and reality has not sunk in.  There is physical distress during this phase, which can result in somatic symptoms.  If they do not progress through this phase, they will struggle to accept and will emotionally shut down and not progress through the phases of grief.

Yearning and pining

In this phase they develop awareness of the void left in their life resulting from the loss. There is a feeling that an essential part of them is missing as a result of the loss. Attempts are made to search for the comfort they used to have and they may develop a preoccupation with the deceased.  If they cannot progress through this phase, they will be distressed with the intense and prolonged yearning for the deceased.

Despair and Disorganization

In this stage they have come to accept the reality of the loss and how things would never be the same again. They might feel depressed and hopeless, and become more socially withdrawn. They might also feel irritable, guilty or blame themselves for it.  If they do not progress through this phase, they will continue to be consumed by anger or depression, and their attitude towards life will remain negative and hopeless.

Reorganization and Recovery

In this phase, they start to experience and adapt to changes in their day-to-day life without the deceased.  Painful feelings are replaced by cherished memories. With that, they are able to start new activities or build new relationships. Slowly they realised that life can go on positively even after the loss.   

On average, grief lasts for about six months. However, different people take different amounts of time to go through these different stages. Some stay in a stage longer than the others and some take up to one year to reach the recovery stage.

grief and loss

Complicated Grief

However, some people may experience complicated grief reactions following a loss.

To learn more about Complicated Grief and how to navigate through grief and loss, be sure to read our upcoming article on Complicated Grief and Tips on helping yourself through grief.