Grief, bereavement and mourning are all used to describe the reaction to losing someone you love, but they have slightly different meanings. Both bereavement and mourning are part of grieving.
Grief is a normal reaction to the loss of a loved one. It can also be a reaction to the loss of relationships, physical ability, opportunities or future hopes and dreams.
Bereavement is the state of having suffered the loss of a loved one. It is the time after a loss during which grief is experienced and mourning occurs.
Mourning is the external expression of grief. It includes rituals that mark someone’s death, such as funerals, wakes or memorial services. Mourning is strongly influenced by a person’s religious, spiritual and cultural beliefs and practices.
Everyone grieves differently. The way you grieve will depend on:
Grieving is not a single emotional experience. It is a process through which we learn to cope with the loss of someone (or something) in our lives. It’s important to remember that there is no “right” way to grieve. No one can tell you how you should grieve, when you should feel certain emotions or in what order. Your grief is a very personal experience, and your feelings do not have to follow any path but your own.
During the grieving process, you may have many different emotions:
Shock and numbness - Even though death may be expected when someone has advanced cancer, the actual death may still come as a shock to you, especially if it was sudden or happens sooner than expected.
Sadness, loneliness and isolation - The sadness of grief is a deep sense of loss. Some people have a sense of emptiness or being left alone by the person who died. During grieving, many people withdraw from others, especially in social situations.
Anger - It’s not unusual to be angry after someone dies. You may be angry that the person left you, that they didn’t fight the cancer “hard enough,” or that they won’t be there for a special life event (for example, a wedding or graduation). You may also be angry at yourself because you didn’t visit the person often while they were ill, or you weren’t there when they died. You may also be angry at your god or fate for the person’s death.
Relief - If the person who died had been ill or suffering for a long time, you may feel a sense of relief that the struggle is over. You may also feel thankful that the stress of being a caregiver is over. These feelings are normal, and you shouldn’t feel ashamed or guilty about them.
Guilt - You may feel guilty about something that you said, or didn’t say, to the person who has died, or that you didn’t do enough to help them while they were alive.
Confusion - You may have problems concentrating or remembering things. You may feel like you’re walking around in a fog or that you are not yourself. This is a normal reaction to grief.
Grief can also cause physical symptoms and reactions:
Anticipatory grief is the grief that occurs when the person with advanced cancer or their family expects death to happen. It includes many of the same thoughts, feelings and emotions that can occur after a death.
Anticipatory grief can give you time to slowly get used to the reality of your loss. It can give you a chance to complete unfinished business with the dying person or strengthen your relationship with them.
Grieving can be a very painful and long process. Given time and support, you will begin to heal, accept the loss and adjust. There is no set time period for grieving. Most people find that their emotions and physical symptoms of grief start to lessen between 6 months and 2 years after their loved one has died.
To cope with grief, you can:
Some people have a very hard time adjusting to their loss. Complicated grief is grief that does not improve or gets worse as time passes. People with complicated grief have trouble moving on with their lives and may become depressed.
If you have complicated grief, it’s important to get help. Speak to your family doctor about treatment. You may also find it helpful to speak to a mental health professional.
Children often grieve longer than adults, but they may not show their feelings. Grieving children may keep busy with their activities, and families think they don’t really understand or have gotten over the death. Children often can’t think through their feelings like adults can, and they may have trouble putting their feelings into words.
Children often wonder:
These tips can help you support children as they work through their grief:
Simply being a teenager is a very stressful time, without adding grief to it. Rather than talk to their parents about their grief and sadness, teens may find it easier to talk to their friends or other important adults in their life.
Teens generally feel invincible and that death can’t touch them. While they may not talk about being upset, they may express their grief by using alcohol or drugs, or by taking risks such as driving too fast or engaging in unsafe sexual behaviour. They may start doing poorly at school or lose interest in their normal activities.
Some basic tips to help teens work through grief are: