Defining grieving, bereavement and mourning

The mere thought of losing someone you love pricks one’s heart like a sharp needle. It is only natural to feel depressed, grieved and guilty when one actually experiences the loss of a loved one. Any person going through the phase of losing someone important is going through a process known as grieving.  During this process a person will come across various stages, from initial outbursts of emotions to acceptance and finally learning to live with the terms that your loved one is no more. The term to explain the feelings of distress and depression felt during the grieving process is called bereavement. Mourning is the physical outbursts of emotions that are characterised by rituals and actions practiced in different cultures and religious backgrounds.

Stages of grief

Grief is not a static feeling. Your emotions and feelings in response to the death of a loved one will change with time. It is completely normal, and in fact healthy to go through different feelings that can be described in the form of stages of grief. DeVaul and Zisook, popular grief experts developed a model of grief which can be explained in the three stages stated below:

1.     Shock

The main characteristics of this stage are denial and disbelief. A person refuses to accept that the loved one has departed from this world, and such feelings may last from a few hours to many weeks. Shock is usually experienced during funeral preparations and gathering of friends and family who are there to offer condolences.

2.     Acute mourning

In this stage a person develops acceptance of the death and displays physical and emotional outbursts in response. People may experience different emotions such as guilt, regret, anger, panic and loneliness. A person may prefer to live in isolation and this stage lasts for several months.

3.     Restitution

A person learns to cope with the death of loved one and comes to term with the emotional turmoil inside him. A person continues the normal routine of life and begins to concentrate on the world around him. The person starts to be socially active and lives a healthy lifestyle.

You may or may not experience the stages in the given order or may skip some stages completely. However the model displays a general description of the stages of grief that a person may go through.

How do you cope with grief?

Feelings of despair and grief due to loss of someone close in an inevitable part of everyone’s life. Death is the gloomy truth that everyone has to face. The pain of a major loss cannot entirely disappear but an effective grieving process may help you in moving smoothly through the phases of mourning and acceptance. In our society there is a misperception that grief will eventually go away with the passage of time.

Professional psychologists and psychiatrists stress that a proper coping strategy is necessary to free yourself from intense feelings of guilt, anger and depression. The strong feelings of depression can become more serious clinical depression if left unattended. Following are some tips that can help you in coping with grief and loss:

1.     Express yourself: It is unhealthy to bottle up feelings of guilt, anger or grief associated with the loss of a loved one. Healthy and effective communication with someone close will help you in clearing your head. Crying is a natural process of healing so if you feel on the verge of tears, go ahead and cry.

2.     Be patient: People often perceive grieving as a brief process that should end after the funeral. They fail to realise that the loss of a loved one is going to have a long-term impact on their life. Do not pressure yourself in trying get rid of feelings of despair and sadness. Time is the best healer and eventually you will find yourself accepting the loss and learning how to live with it. Don’t compare your position with others around you. Let your body experience pain and emotions and listen closely to your own feelings and what they are telling you.

3.     Abstain from drugs and alcohol: A person who has recently experienced the death of a spouse, child or parent is highly vulnerable to seek refuge with short-term grief relievers, such as drugs or alcohol. They dull your senses and suppress your emotions. They will slow down the recovery process and you can often find yourself impacted from severe depression.

4.     Get support of loved ones: In such depressing times support and love of family and close friends means a lot to the person going through intense feelings of grief. Share your feelings and memories about the dead loved one with them. Do not suppress emotions by displaying a false show of bravery to protect other members of the family. Especially in the cases of the loss of a spouse or child, a family needs each other to get through the pain.

5.     Adopt a healthy lifestyle: Live a healthy life by maintaining a nutritious diet and exercising regularly. Indulge in activities that help your body to relax like hot baths, body massages and proper naps. Calm your mind by practising meditation and Yoga relieving yourself from all the stress factors.

6.     Compassion and forgiveness: The loss of a loved one may leave you emotionally bruised with feelings of regrets. You may feel guilty about not spending enough time with them, not taking care of them, not being able to express your feelings of love and not being able to do more for them. Be lenient towards self and practise forgiving yourself from all the things you didn’t say or do. By opening doors to forgiveness and compassion you will experience tolerance.

7.     Bereavement counselling: If you find yourself with severe depression with thoughts of regret and suicide taking you over, then the best step for you is to seek bereavement counselling for you are experiencing intense grief. Professional support will help you understand the mourning process, identify areas that are restricting you to move on, deal with areas of conflict, adjust to a life without the presence of the dead loved one and realise if the mourning has changed into more severe clinical depression.

If any one of the following conditions describe your situation, then seeking professional help is of utmost importance for you:

  • Unanticipated death of a close, conflicted or ambivalent relation.
  • Past history of severe depression.
  • Deteriorating physical health.
  • Grieving for the past 4 months or more without any signs of feelings better.
  • Depressing feelings of not being able to live without dead loved and disturbing thoughts of suicide.
  • Grief is effecting your normal life routine and impacting your diet and sleep.

Australia Counselling links you with professional grief and loss counsellors and psychologists throughout Australia to help you deal with the death of a loved one. Our counsellors are based in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and regional areas of Australia. Visit our grief and loss page or death and dying page to find counsellors in your local area.


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