Definitions of Loss, Grief and Bereavement

In my work as a Toronto therapist I see that loss, grieving and bereavement are a constant feature of our lives. How we cope with these plays an important part in determining our emotional well being. All three of these terms are related. I will define each in order to distinguish their particular aspects.

Loss – is a result of the normal process of change that occurs when people, places or circumstances are no longer part of our lives.

Grief – is the emotional response to loss. It varies according to the type of loss. There are often stages associated with grief such as shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Bereavement – is the process of grieving a death.

Types of Losses That We Can Experience

1/ Death of a close family member, friend or significant person in our life

2/ Divorce – this includes all family members who are affected by the divorce

3/ End of a friendship

4/ Death of a pet

5/ Loss of a job

6/ Loss of a home

I would like to emphasize that loss cannot be objectively measured. The severity of the loss depends on a number of factors that are subjective. For instance, to one person the loss of a pet can be absolutely shattering, whereas to another, it can be much less painful. So your own personal loss is as painful as it feels to you and you don’t have to feel diminished if your loss is considered less serious by others.

How Grief Can Affect People

Grief can produce strong feelings that can affect us both physically and mentally. Some of these are:

1/ Shock – In the case of a major loss people can experience a detached, dreamlike state which is often characterized by a sense of numbness. NB. – Driving during such a state can be dangerous.

2/ Emotional Pain – Can include out of control crying and a series of total body experiences such as wrenching feeling in the chest and gut, feelings of pining and loss. People have described this state in terms of ‘feeling they were going mad’.

3/ Anger –  Characterized by a sense of unfairness that seeks an outlet. Feelings of resentment can predominate.

4/ Anxiety – A person can feel overwhelmed by great stress, anxiety and panic as their world and their sense of reality has been severely shaken.

5/ Mental Disorganization – Forgetfulness, confusion, lack of concentration and intrusive thoughts.

6/ Insomnia – Inability to sleep well, nightmares and night sweats.

7/ Physical Illness – Resistance is often very low and rates of physical illness can increase.

8/ Denial – The denial of the event can be a normal grieving process or it can be excessive or go on too long. This is difficult to measure as it varies from person to person.

9/ Depression – Sense of helplessness, loss of control and feelings of despair.

10/ Altered Sense of Self – Our feelings of self identity can be significantly altered during grief.

Factors That Affect Grief

1/ Type of Loss – The more severe the loss, the greater the symptoms of grief.

2/ Nature of the Loss – The way in which the loss occurred can increase the severity of the symptoms. For example, sudden unexpected losses or suicide can fall under this category.

3/ Social Support – Generally the more social support we have, the better we can deal with grief.

4/ Gender – Men are often more prone to repress symptoms of grief than women.

5/ Culture – Grief often varies according to the culture

6/ Timeline of Loss – How long ago the loss occurred can affect the type and severity of symptoms.

7 Age of Survivor – Certain age groups, such as young children grieve differently according to their understanding of death.

8/ Mental or Physical Health of Survivor – Frail health can make grieving more difficult.

9/ The Quality of the Relationship – How well did we get on with the deceased. Was it a good relationship, a conflicted one or a distant one?

10/ Religious or Spiritual Beliefs – Can help with grieving by giving meaning to the loss.

Healthy Versus Unhealthy Grieving

The symptoms of grief and loss can often feel very disturbing. For this reason people can question what is healthy or unhealthy grieving.

Here are some examples of grief that may not be healthy and could require professional help.

1/ Constant suicidal thoughts – Occasional suicidal thoughts can be normal. However, if these persist and there is a plan of suicide, help is needed immediately.

2/ Symptoms that won’t go away – Feeling depressed and anxious can be normal. Nevertheless, if these persist then it is good to seek help.

3/ Failure to care for yourself – If you find that you are not able to care for yourself for an extended period of time, it is time to seek help.

4/ An inability to feel the loss – This can be normal at first, but if this persists over a long period of time, then it is not healthy.

5/ Substance abuse – If you find yourself abusing substances such as alcohol and pills, then it is good to seek help.

Things to Remember to Help Ease the Grieving Process

1/ Get support from others. Seek out individuals who can understand you, or join a support group. Don’t keep your feelings locked in.

2/ Get to know the stages of grief in order to give yourself perspective. Respect the intensity of grief.

3/ Take your time and don’t rush grieving. It is a natural process that has its own time.

4/ Have compassion for yourself.  Many people can be angry at themselves for being ‘weak’. Instead, respect your pain.

5/ Look inwards. Loss can change us and our sense of self. Be aware of what changes might be happening to you.

6/ Practice self care. Physical and mental health can be vulnerable during grief.

7/ Use spirituality or religious beliefs in a positive manner.

8/ Be tolerant of your feelings. Respect the irrationality and loss of control that can occur.

9/ Be aware that you can have negative feelings toward the person who is gone. This is normal.

10/ Choose to live.

Remember that grieving is hard work. It is work that is necessary to do in order to continue living fully. The pain can often be quite extreme, but you can emerge from the process a stronger and more whole person.