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What is Bereavement?

Bereavement is the period of time following a loss in which grief and mourning occur. While some cultures apply fixed time windows to bereavement (for example, in Jewish culture, families sit shiva for seven days following a death), bereavement is different for each person and loss. It’s also worth noting that bereavement may not be a single, fixed time window. Many people return to periods of bereavement on key dates, such a the birthday of a deceased loved one or the anniversary of their death.

What to expect during bereavement

The grief experienced during bereavement can take many forms--emotional, mental, physical or social--and no two people experience grief in the same way. You may find it hard to keep from breaking down into tears throughout the day, or you may never feel the need to cry. You may feel anger toward those around you, or you may find that you’re more nurturing than usually, helping others manage their grief. Resist the urge to compare your personal reactions to the reactions of others. Keep in mind that grief and bereavement is different for everyone and no experience of grief is exactly the same. That being said, if you start exhibiting symptoms of complicated grief, it may be a good idea to schedule an appointment with a bereavement counselor or professional.

Here are the common signs of complicated grief:

  • Intense pain and fixation on the loss after losing someone, for an extended period of time
  • Only focusing on the death of your loved one
  • Intense rumination on reminders of your lost one or an excessive avoidance of those reminders
  • Loss of trust in friends, family, and those close to you
  • Difficulty accepting the reality of the death
  • Prolonged feelings of numbness or detachment
  • Bitterness about the death
  • Suicidal ideation, suicidal feelings, or feeling like life has no purpose
  • Intense pining after the deceased

If you're experiencing these symptoms and are noticing disruptions in your normal routine due to some of these symptoms, consider reaching out to a mental health professional.

How to manage a period of bereavement

Start by acknowledging to yourself that you’re experiencing grief. You may need to adjust your expectations for yourself, as well as help others adjust their expectations of you for a period. If you work, ask whether your company has a bereavement policy, as you may be able to take paid (or unpaid) leave. If you’re unable to take time off, you should still let your boss and those you work with regularly that you recently lost someone. Tell them you’re going to do your best to stay on top of everything, but you may need extra support for a period.

You should also look at where you can cut back in your personal life. Consider taking a break from regular extracurricular activities for a time. If others offer to help, be as forthright as possible with what they can do to make your life easier. This could mean running errands, picking up children, bringing over food, or just being there to talk.

Getting help during bereavement

If you’re currently experiencing grief, consider getting professional help. This could mean attending a support group, talking to a grief counselor or reading books by grief experts. Here are a few books we recommend:

If you're looking for websites with grief resources, What's Your Grief offers a lot of content on grief, loss, and dealing with a loss. If you're looking for a place to connect with others through support groups, you can find grief counseling on Psychology Today's site or on specific sites, such as The Dinner Party.

You can also get started by connecting with others who have lost someone by joining a discussion in the Grief Support Forums.

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Last updated March 16, 2021
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