Understanding normal grieving and bereavement is an important step to coping effectively if you or a loved one is experiencing any loss. The difference between grieving, bereavement and mourning are:

  • Grieving is the normal process people experience when they lose someone important. It is natural and expected.
  • Bereavement is what the person goes through, what they feel and experience when someone close to them dies.
  • Mourning is the way the grieving person expresses his or her loss. Mourning includes specific actions such as rituals or celebrations after the loss. Each culture and religion may mourn differently.

Grieving goes from a range of overwhelming behaviors that are very normal during this period and they may not come in exact order. Grieving people can experience different emotions and behaviors at the same time; in fact, they can experience signs of shock, numbness, disbelief, and denial with signs of recovery at the same time. Everyone experiences grief differently, but there are some common features that can be expected to experience:

Overwhelming behaviors: Sadness, anger, guilt, self-reproach, anxiety, loneliness, fatigue, helplessness, shock yearning, emancipation, relief, and numbness.

Physical sensations: Hollowness in the stomach, tightness in the chest, tightness in the throat, oversensitivity to noise, sense of depersonalization, breathlessness, feeling short of breath, weakness in the muscles, lack of energy, and dry mouth.

Thought patterns: disbelief, confusion, preoccupation, sense of the presence of the deceased, and hallucinations.

There are also certain behaviors that are common during the grief process but that usually correct themselves over time:

Sleep disturbances, appetite disturbances, absentminded behavior, social withdrawal, dreams of the deceased, avoiding reminders of the deceased, searching and calling out, sighing, restless hyperactivity, and crying.

* The grieving person also may visit places or carry objects that remind her of the deceased.

What can you do if someone you know is grieving?

In order for you to help the griever, you don’t only have to be aware of all of the above feelings and behaviors, but be aware of the fact that the griever needs time and patience from loved ones to adapt to the loss.

In reality, grieving people think that they never will adapt to the loss, but according to psychologist J. William Worden, if grieving people address the four basic “tasks” of mourning, they certainly will go back to their normal life eventually.

Worden’s four basic tasks of mourning:

– to accept the reality of the loss

– to experience the pain of grief

– to adjust to an environment in which the deceased is gone

-to withdraw emotional energy and reinvest it in another relationship (this is not meant to suggest that the bereaved person is going to forget, replace, or stop loving the deceased, but to reach a stage of grieving where he or she can love others as well).

Helpful tips to support the grieving person

1. Be a patient listener. Do not stop the grieving person from talking about the death; do not say “don’t tell me what happened. I know what happened”, or “don’t torture yourself by talking about it”, because this is the way the grieving person moves to the next stage of grieving, which is the part where she processes the pain. Allow the bereaved to talk about past and present memories of the deceased, be patient.

2. Let the bereaved grieve. Let them cry, let them express their pain; assure them that they have the right to grieve. Be compassionate. Tell them in a sweet manner that if they coped with other life crises in the past, they will cope with this one as well.

3. Help the mourner to understand that they should wait to take major permanent life decisions immediately after the loss and that they should wait until the healing has already begun.

4. Let the mourner know that you will be there for her whenever she needs you and that you will check on her on certain dates.

5. Be patient and know that even if you think that she has grieved a long time, grieving is different for everyone.

6. Remember that the best help that anyone can give to a grieving person is simply being there for her, and being patient and tolerant. Additionally, you can help also by always watching for any signs of abnormal grieving such as substance abuse, heavy drinking or promiscuity, sleeping habits that become severely inconsistent, lack of quality in their job, grades dropping significantly at school, or loved ones or friends are avoided; talking about death and loss frequently often in unrelated conversations; an uncontrollable grief response to minor events; severe depression; feelings of panic; feelings of being overwhelmed and incapacitated by fear and grief; emotional numbness that doesn’t go away; lack of appetite or overeating; extreme anxiety, obsessive thoughts of death or thoughts of suicide.

If you notice that the mourner is having abnormal grieving then is time to refer her to a professional, so she can receive the proper help.

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