What Is Bereavement?

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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
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Bereavement signifies a period of emotional pain after a friend, family member, or beloved pet dies. Mental health experts define normal stages people experience after a death, but the feelings may overlap and appear in cycles. People mourn differently and they may deal with bereavement quickly or endure a lengthy process before emotional healing occurs. When the grieving process gets stuck in one stage, it might signal the need for bereavement counseling.

After a loved one dies, the first stage of bereavement commonly appears as denial or disbelief. A person might feel helpless and stunned even if the person who died suffered from a lengthy illness. If the loved one represented a source of financial or emotional support, a sense of panic might surface as the mourner wonders how he or she will cope alone.

Funerals and memorial services might help people in this stage of bereavement accept the reality of death. For some people, viewing the body helps them realize the person is truly gone. These rituals commonly remove feelings of numbness and pave the way for the next stage of grief, typically a sense of anger.


During the bereavement process, a mourner might become angry at the loved one who died for leaving him or her. He or she might also blame doctors or other hospital staff for not saving the person's life. Sometimes this anger targets friends or relatives who may have been absent when they were needed. A griever might internalize guilt over a past disagreement with the person who died.

Depression typically follows the anger stage, and commonly begins four to six weeks after the death. This period may be marked by times of intense sadness and weeping, especially when something reminds the mourner of the loss. In this stage, recalling positive memories commonly helps someone get through the sadness. This is considered an essential part of the coping process that generally becomes more bearable over time.

As depression eases, acceptance typically sets in. Emotions commonly become less intense, and a person begins resuming normal activities. He or she still might become depressed on significant dates linked to the loss, or when hearing a particular song. Physical symptoms connected with bereavement usually improve with acceptance, such as sleep difficulties and loss of appetite.

Different cultures handle death according to different beliefs and customs. Mourning might be noisy and public or a quiet ritual considered private. Some cultures define a period of mourning when survivors wear black clothing and refrain from dating or attending certain social events. In some regions, memorial shrines in the home keep memories of the loved one alive.


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