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What Is the Connection between Bereavement and Grief?

The connection between bereavement and grief is so interwoven that it often results in the terms being used interchangeably. Bereavement, however, is defined as the state in which someone has been deprived of something, while grief is the response to that loss. For a loss to precipitate bereavement, it must be significant, often involving the death of a loved one, end of an important relationship, or major life change. Grieving, as the psychological and physiological reaction to bereavement, is the individual’s method of coping, and can manifest in various forms or degrees.

Bereavement can be the result of the death of a spouse or life partner, close family member, friend, or even a pet. A divorce or the loss of a job can sometimes have the same impact. In fact, any experience that creates a feeling of deep loss qualifies as bereavement. The corresponding grief is a natural reaction, and most people find a way to process and move through it. Others may get stuck and need professional assistance. In those cases, grief or bereavement counseling is available.

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When someone has suffered bereavement and grief sets in, the process is a unique and personal one. There have been many studies on the stages of grief, perhaps the most well known of which was performed by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. The classic Kubler-Ross model is referred to as The Five Stages of Grief. These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Although others have tried to apply these stages in a linear fashion, Kubler-Ross was very explicit in her belief that everyone experiences bereavement and grief differently, with some moving from stage to stage while others end up getting stuck, repeating, or skipping some stages.

Culturally, the reactions to bereavement and grief have been dictated by traditional practices and rituals. In different areas of the world, such as some of the more rural villages in Mexico, Spain, and Italy, women who lose a spouse will wear black for the rest of their lives. In contrast, the Hindu faith prescribes that grieving families wear white, and that the period of mourning is officially over on the 13th day after the death of the loved one. Every country, culture, and religion has variations on coping with bereavement and grief, but the underlying goal is the same: to support the individual and help move them through the stages of grief so that they can ultimately reach the point of acceptance.

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