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Are Grief and Bereavement the Same Thing?

Many people use the words grief and bereavement interchangeably, but it turns out they mean slightly different things. It’s hard to process or accept when a loved one dies. While death brings an end to your loved one’s suffering, yours is just beginning. That grief and sorrow can be all-encompassing, with feelings of despair creating confusion as your grief wears on. Knowing the difference between grief and mourning, or grief and bereavement, can help you navigate this difficult time. Another way to help cope is by taking part in bereavement services in San Mateo and elsewhere.

Experts apply the term “bereavement” to refer to the fact of the loss, while the term “grief” describes the emotional, functional, cognitive, and behavioral responses to the loss, according to World Psychiatry.

Bereavement vs. Grief

These are not the same thing, even though they can overlap at times.

Bereavement involves the time period right after the loss and when mourning occurs. This is when bereavement, grief, and mourning are terms that all are used to mean basically the same thing. But it’s important to note that bereavement is not always rooted in the death of a loved one. There are many other types of losses that can impact your emotional well-being, such as divorce, job loss, house fire, or your best friend moving away. When you go through these types of losses, you may experience the same grief you would if you had actually lost a loved one through death.

How much time an individual spends in the bereavement stage depends on how well they knew the deceased and how much time was spent in anticipation of the loss, points out The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. Also known as a period of mourning, this is the process of how we adapt to a loss, which is often influenced by cultural rituals, customs, and societal rules.

Grief is a person’s natural reaction to loss, manifesting itself in emotional pain and sadness. But just like bereavement, you can grieve for losses other than human life, which can spur feelings of guilt, anger, jealousy, and even indifference. Everyone grieves differently, and there are many kinds of grief. Perhaps you recently lost a pet, which can bring on the very same stages of grief that you would have for a human loved one. You may find it difficult to get over this loss for many weeks or months.

Or maybe you are a parent who has lost a child to a drug overdose, whereby you may be having feelings of guilt, blaming yourself for not seeing the signs, and getting help soon enough. These are all examples of loss that can bring about the stages of grief.

Grief can result in mental, physical, social, or emotional reactions, such as despair, anger, guilt and anxiety. Or, it can even show up in physical responses, such as difficulty sleeping, appetite changes, or illness. Grief often manifests itself physically, punctuated by constant thoughts of the deceased, behavioral changes, no desire to engage in normal activities, and even hostility to others.

Subtle Differences

There are many subtle yet distinct differences between bereavement and grief.

  • Time/Emotion: This is perhaps the largest difference between the two. For example, upon hearing the news of the passing of your loved one, you will likely have an emotional reaction. Perhaps you would get angry, go into shock, or cry. These emotional responses are natural, and this process could take many weeks or even years. You may get bereavement leave at work so you can take a few days to plan the funeral and let the information sink in. The process of bereavement is over when the first part of mourning comes to an end.
  • Stages of Grief/Bereavement Cycles: After the initial mourning period ends, people typically go through the five stages of grief. Maybe not all in the same order, but in some semblance of this order: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. While grief ebbs and flows but never really leaves, bereavement occurs in distinct time cycles.
  • Grief= A Bereavement Response: Bereavement begins at the moment the loss occurs. The response to losing a loved one is displayed in the form of grief. You may not grieve instantly, but your bereavement begins right away. The way you respond to the news of the passing  — that emotional response — is grief.

It can be tricky to separate the two, but the differences are there.

In conclusion, grief forms an emotional reaction to loss, while bereavement is the time period after the loss whereby the person grieves and mourns that loss.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

In your time of grief and mourning, lean on Pathways for our many bereavement services, from workshops and one-on-one counseling to support groups and annual memorial events. Call us to learn more about what we offer.