Grief and Loss

What is Bereavement?  Is It Different From Grief?

Bereavement is a major category within grief and loss, and is a similarly important focus for professionally-trained grief counselors.  When someone loses a loved one, the main reason many people seek professional help is because there are many different stages of grief.  Not only is bereavement similar to grief in many ways, but many professionals believe that bereavement is something that is much more difficult to cope with alone.

What is Bereavement?

By definition, bereavement is the act of grieving due to the death of a loved one or friend.  When someone loses a loved one as a result of a divorce or a relationship, this can bring out of the similar feelings and characteristics of a grief episode.  However, what makes bereavement different from other forms of suffering is that this particular type of grief and loss is solely caused by the passing of a loved one.

It is important to note that the process of coping with loss and grief experienced by someone who loses a marriage or a significant other should not be minimized.  However, the reality is that there is a very different approach to healing within the context of someone bereaved and is coping with someone who has passed.

Grief Versus Bereavement


The first thing to consider when comparing the main differences between bereavement and grief is the fact that bereavement faces a situation that unfortunately cannot be changed.  When someone suffers from a loved one who is deceased, it becomes increasingly difficult to accept the fact that there is nothing anyone can do to bring them back.

So one of the mistakes that can be made is assuming that the healing process of bereavement requires someone to be able to forget about this person and loss.  Rather, the primary focus should be on learning how to help the bereaved cope with grief and work through the five stages of grief, which is much different in this context than any other type of grief.

For example, throughout the grieving process from the loss of a relationship, there might be a need to interact with the other party due to finances or children.  Also, it is very common for couples to reconcile and return to that relationship after time.  It is also common that this can result in a complete breakup that has no expectations or possibilities of ever ever communicating or seeing each other again.  So in any of these situations, there is clearly a significant level of grief present.  However, these types of  emotional hardship and grief are very different from learning to cope each day with the ultimate finality of death.

It is also important to note that, although we are faced with life events and challenges that many be considered far less severe than a loved one who has passed, the truth is that there are many situations that can cause people to feel equally overwhelmed.  For example, it is completely natural to experience severe grief from things such as losing a job, being diagnosed as terminally ill, dealing with a long-time friend or relative moving far away, or even when a dog, cat, or other pet dies.

So there are many situations, other than losing a loved one, that can cause people to feel as if their life is going to be forever changed, or in some cased, turned upside down due to such a significant loss.  So again, there are other situations that can instill an extreme level of fear, anxiety, sadness, loss, or grief.  However, these situations all lack the element of bereavement, which requires accepting a loss that is much deeper and also much more challenging to overcome.

Each Loss is Different

Since bereavement involves the combination of grief, loss, emotions, and death, each individual will have a different way of reacting.  This can depend on things such as the type of person they are, how they were raised, whether they have ever experienced the loss of a loved one, and most importantly, the level of relationship they shared with the deceased.

Regardless of the situation, most people understand that there should never be any expectation or pressure placed on someone regarding how they “should react” to their time of bereavement.  We all know people who tend to keep their emotions inside, and others who are very outspoken and reach out in their time of need.   So whether someone is visibly sad, withdrawn and difficult to read, each situation is perfectly OK and understandable.  The important thing is to recognize that someone is grieving and experiencing bereavement, which means they will need to deal with their personal situation on their own time…and on their own terms.

Additional Information About Grief and Loss:

Grief and Loss Bereavement

Grief Message Boards
Loss of a Child
Loss of a Parent
Loss of a Pet
Loss of a Sibling
Loss of a Spouse

Many would argue that coping with the loss of a spouse is much different than dealing with a pet loss.  However, since we noted above that each person and their situations are different, there is no way to accurately determine the level of  grief  and bereavement involved in either circumstances.When you consider losing a spouse at much older age, this could present an entirely different experience than someone who lost their spouse tragically at a very young age.  Losing a brother when you are a young child is far different than losing a brother during your later stages in life.  Again, the all-important point being made again is that there are no rules when it comes to grief and bereavement.

Fortunately, these are all well-know concepts for most professional grief counselors, as well as members of bereavement groups. Usually their experience has helped them to become well-equipped to understand that each person reacts differently, and each reason is valid.

So knowing every reaction cannot be viewed as “right or wrong”, the best role you can play as a family member, loved one, friend, or co-worker, is to allow them the time and space to cope in their own way, and make sure they know they have the support of as many people as possible…when…or if…the time is right.