What do we mean by Bereavement?

Bereavement usually refers to the state of having lost someone through death. It can also be used more widely to mean the state of having lost something very dear. A state of bereavement almost always involves grieving. 

Grieving is the process of reacting to such a loss.

As explained by Ralph Ryback in Psychology Today 

“Grieving, or the outward physical, emotional and psychological expression of loss, can cause us immense emotional and physical suffering when someone or something we love is taken away from us.”  

When you think of the word grief, what other words come to mind? People often think of sadness, longing and tearfulness and these can all be a part of grieving. However, some of the most commonly reported reactions include anger (even at the person who died), confusion, guilt or even ‘nothing at all’ – many people worry that their feelings of numbness following a death are inappropriate, and try to make themselves feel something – however, numbness is a very common initial reaction and may be the body’s way of trying to cope with the immensity of the situation. Equally, anger can often be an easier feeling for someone to hold onto as when we are angry, we can feel less vulnerable than when we allow ourselves to acknowledge that we are really feeling sad, scared or lost. 

Many people experience physical reactions to the loss, such as aches & pains, fatigue, loss of concentration and digestive problems. 

However individuals experience grief, they need people around them to acknowledge their own particular reactions as valid – one of the most important ways of doing this is through paying attention to them and listening without giving advice.   

To grieve is normal and natural, and as such should not be seen as a problem or a condition to be cured.

What do we understand about grief? 

It is now recognised that, actually, the healthiest experiences of grief involve keeping some kind of continued attachment with the person who died. As such, finding ways to remember, talk about and keep a place for the person is actively encouraged. Within the workplace, one of the most helpful things you can do for anyone who is grieving is to acknowledge it openly, mention the person who died by name and thus provide people with a clear & open opportunity to talk about it when they wish. 

Everyone needs support, I just wish it could be the kind of support that just allows us to be held and nurtured in our grief, with full permission to feel what we feel. Our lack of supportive communities has resulted in this need to compartmentalise, analyse, and pathologise a natural process. I think it makes it all worse… and much harder.” - Commenter on an online grief message board 

Many people are familiar with the theory of 5 Stages of Grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. However, all too often this has been taken as something of a checklist for people to tick off one by one as they go along. This has been deeply unhelpful as most people do not experience their grief feelings in such a linear way and may spend a long time jumping from one to another then back again. 

There is no set pattern to grief and everyone’s experience will be unique. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and the immense pressure some people feel to grieve in the ‘correct’ way can add further distress to an already upsetting situation. There is no set timeframe for grief and people will be ‘hit with it’ at different times – for some people, the fullest extent of their pain surrounding the loss is not experienced until several months after the death. For others, certain anniversaries or triggers may lead to a period of time where they feel their grief more acutely again. 

We have included a few current theories about grief in this section, which may help to describe how people can experience grief and demonstrate the sheer level of mental and emotional effort involved, which should be recognised by employers. 

Most importantly, one of the worst things that can be done is to try and avoid the pain of grief. The longer someone feels the need to deny their grief, the longer the pain will continue, and the more complicated things can get. To feel the pain of the loss is an unpleasant yet healthy and necessary part of the process, and workplaces should ensure they are encouraging painful feelings to be recognised, acknowledged and expressed rather than unwittingly encouraging a culture of silence or ‘sweeping under the rug’. 

As painful as it is, there is a point to grief, and those who embrace it as a normal part of experiencing and processing life’s inevitable losses, find that their suffering can be somewhat eased, made more manageable and supported by those around them.

Understanding Grief Theories

Worden’s Tasks of Mourning  

Worden’s work was mainly focused on what a healthy experience of grief might look like. His ‘Tasks of Mourning’ describe four things that would feature in such a healthy process. These are not to be taken as a tick-list, to be checked off one by one or in any particular order. Rather, people jump from one to another at different times and as different things happen and revisit them over and over again. Everyone will have a unique experience.