Updated: Dec 3
Bereavement, Grief, and Mourning
The terms ‘bereavement’, ‘grief’ and ‘mourning’ tend to be used interchangeably because they are related contextually, but they actually have different meanings.
Bereavement is generally defined as, “a period of grief and mourning following the death of a loved one” (Harrawood, 2017, p. 149).
Let us unpack that a little more.
Bereavement as a life-circumstance that “happens to us". When lose someone we love, we play a passive role. We have no control or power of the death of our loved one.
This passivity contributes to making bereavement one of “our most wrenching experiences” (Attig, 2011, p. 32).
When bereaved, we find ourselves in a state of abjection,
we disapprove of the fact that we lost our loved one,
we almost oppose it,
especially in the early stages.
We experience extreme distress as a result. The death of a loved one such as a family member can be extremely distressing for most of us because of the shock experienced by separation and changes to an assumed world that is based upon the security of kinship.
Now, the pain of suffering that accompanies bereavement manifest is various ways: social, psychological, and spiritual uncertainties. So it is only natural to assume that your beliefs of life, death, afterlife and humanity may influence how you interpret and cope with bereavement.
Grief is the emotional response to loss. The spectrum of grief may manifest in a range of emotions such as sadness, joy, guilt, shock, denial, blame, relief and anger.
So, grief is any emotion that you have in response to the loss, whether is it...
losing someone to death,
the end of a relationship,
the death of a pet,
the loss of physical abilities,
the loss of health,
the loss of an unborn child,
having a loved one suffer from disability, mental illness, or substance abuse
the loss of employment,
and even after traumatic events
because you lose a sense of innocence and security after trauma, especially as victims of abuse and crimes.
We also need to consider that grief is not culture-free.
The expression and intensity of grief can vary for different individuals and cultures.
In fact, spiritual reflection is important for managing the state of grief. This gives us a more holistic understanding of grief as: your personal response to the loss emotionally, physically, behaviourally, cognitively, socially, and spiritually. Grieving can be challenging in multicultural families where family members have different beliefs - supporting each other can become difficult.
Meanwhile, mourning is the outward display of grief. When we mourn, our internal world and our interpersonal world interacts. We have the internal recognition of the loss and our socio-cultural world influences how we make sense of our loss. Our faith, spiritual beliefs, and our beliefs about life and the universe interact with the beliefs of our family, relatives and friends. This is how most people find support in their grief, through shared beliefs amongst families and community members.
We also tend to inherit mourning traditions, which give us an outlet to create meaning around the life and death of the deceased because our mourning practices are often tied to shared beliefs about:
the meanings of the life and death, and what happens in the afterlife.
Sometimes, when we struggle to understand our plight,
the pain of our suffering can lead us to ask "Why?" or "Why me?"
This is when many people start contemplating the meaning of their lives, and revisit their inherited beliefs and traditions.
In a multicultural or transcultural and secular society such as Australia, differences in faith and belief are common, so it is not unusual to struggle with making sense of your losses and needing support.
Especially when mourning over the death of a loved one is involved.
Differences in faith and belief become more obvious, and mourning together can be challenging.
Of course, we often find ways to communicate harmoniously with others, and we do often succeed, but we can also feel less than harmonious within ourselves when we have yet to process and make meaning from our loss.
Throughout the journey of grief, regardless of the type of loss, people have historically found comfort in others. While community, family and friends are usually our strongest allies in dark times, speaking with a CALD/ multicultural grief counsellor such as myself can also provide you with support by offering:
the space to hold your grief,
your existential contemplation,
your relational struggles,
and help you process your loss so that it becomes a meaningful part of your life.
If you would like some strategies to begin creating a meaningful, insightful narrative about your loss, read How to understand the Science of Grief and Find Meaning in Your Loss.
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Attig, T. (2011). How we grieve: Relearning the world. (Rev. ed.). Oxford University Press. USA.
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Harrawood, L. (2017). Bereavement. In J. Carlson & S. B. Dermer (Eds.), The SAGE encyclopedia of marriage, family, and couples counseling (Vol. 4) (pp. 149-154). SAGE Publications. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781483369532
Health Direct: Grief and Loss
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