Grief is the feeling one experiences after a loss (of a friendship, death of loved one, job). Complicated grief refers to grief that lasts for more than a year. Mourning describes the customs and rituals that help a bereaved individual make sense of their loss.
Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Grief is quite common and is the normal internal feeling one experiences
in reaction to a loss, while bereavement is the state of having experienced that
Although most commonly discussed in reference to the death of a loved one,
any major loss (for example, breakup of a relationship, job loss, or loss of living situation) can result in a grief reaction.
Prolonged grief is a reaction to loss that lasts more than one year
and the grief reaction affecting all of the sufferer's close relationships,
disrupting his or her beliefs, and resulting in the bereaved experiencing an
ongoing longing for their deceased loved one.
Mourning is the outward
expression of the loss of a loved one and usually involves culturally determined
rituals that help make sense of the end of their loved one's life and gives
structure to what can feel like a very confusing time. It is influenced by
personal, familial, cultural, religious, and societal beliefs and customs.
negative effects of a grief reaction can be significant and are often aggravated
by grief triggers, events that remind the bereaved individual of their loved one,
or the circumstances surrounding their loss.
The risk factors for experiencing
more serious symptoms of grief for a longer period of time are related to the
survivor's own physical and emotional health before the loss, the relationship
between the bereaved and their family member or other loved one, as well as
related to the nature of the death.
Bereaved individuals who feel the death of
their loved one is unexpected or violent may be at greater risk for suffering
from major depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or prolonged
The seven emotional stages of grief are shock or disbelief, denial,
bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, and acceptance/hope.
Symptoms of grief
can be emotional, physical, social, or religious in nature.
For children and
adolescents, their reactions to the death of a loved one usually reflect the
particular developmental stage of the child or adolescent.
To assess grief, a
health caregiver usually asks questions to assess what symptoms the individual
is suffering from, then considers whether he or she is suffering from normal
grief, prolonged grief, or some other issue.
Coping tips for grieving
include the bereaved individual's caring for his or herself through continuing
nutritious and regular eating habits, getting extra rest, and communicating with
surviving loved ones.
Bereavement sometimes ultimately leads to enhanced
Consulting with an attorney or other legal expert is
advisable when either planning for or managing the legal matters associated
with a death.
Some of the major legal issues involved with dying include the
person's right to have informed consent to receive or refuse treatment, advance
directives, establishing a living will, and making funeral arrangements.
What is grief?
Grief is the normal internal feeling one experiences in reaction to a loss,
while bereavement is the state of having experienced that loss. Although people
often suffer emotional pain in response to loss of anything that is very
important to them (for example, a job, a friendship, one's sense of safety, a home),
grief usually refers to the loss of a loved one through death. Grief is quite
common, in that three out of four women outlive their spouse, with the average
age of becoming a widow being 56 years. More than half of women in the United
States are widowed by the time they reach age 65. Every year in the United
States, 4% of children under the age of 15 experience the loss of a parent
Although not a formal medical diagnosis, prolonged grief, formerly called complicated grief refers to a
reaction to loss that lasts more than one year. It is characterized by the grief
reaction intensifying to affect all of the sufferer's close relationships,
disrupting his or her beliefs, and it tends to result in the bereaved
experiencing ongoing longing for their deceased loved one. About
15% of bereaved individuals will suffer from complicated grief, and one-third of people already getting mental-health
services have been found to suffer from this extended grief reaction.
Anticipatory grief is defined as the feelings loved ones have in reaction to
knowing that someone they care about is terminally ill. It occurs before the
death of the afflicted loved one and can be an important part of the grieving
process since this allows time for loved ones to say goodbye to the terminally
ill individual, begin to settle affairs, and plan for the funeral or other
rituals on behalf of the person who is dying.