What is grieving?

After the death of someone close to them, most people experience grief and go through a period of mourning. How people grieve is affected by a number of factors, such as their relationship with the dead person, the way the person died, personality and coping style, age, gender, religious beliefs, cultural background, previous experience of loss, other stresses and the type of support available. Although everyone grieves in their own way, it has been suggested that there are four ‘tasks’ of mourning1

  • Accepting the reality of the loss – realising that the person is dead and won’t be coming back. Seeing the body and rituals like the funeral can make this easier. 
  • Working through the pain of grief – allowing time to experience the feelings and emotions. Trying to avoid or suppress feelings may make grieving harder in the long run. 
  • Learning to live without the dead person – this may involve taking on new roles or learning new skills. 
  • Moving on with life – finding a new place in your emotional life for the person who died so that you can adapt to a different future without their physical presence. 

The feelings and activities associated with grieving can be divided into two main types of experience:2 

  • Loss – the feelings and emotions caused by the bereavement and the need to come to terms with the person’s death 
  • Restoration – the things people do to rebuild their lives, such as sorting out the dead person’s affairs, going back to work, getting on with social activities and learning new skills to deal with their new situation. 

Both are important aspects of grieving, and people usually move between the two, including having periods of respite when grieving is ‘on hold’. The way that people have been brought up may influence the individual way they grieve. For example, some men may deal with their grief by focusing on practical matters, while women may be more likely to express their loss by crying, talking and sharing their feelings. 

There is no right or wrong way. 

In this section are descriptions of the common experiences of bereavement, and you may feel some or all of them, at different times. 

1. Grief counselling and grief therapy. A handbook for the mental health practitioner. J. William Worden (2004, 3rd edition). Hove: Brunner-Routledge. 

2. The dual process model of coping with bereavement: rationale and description. M. Stroebe and H. Schut (1999). Death Studies 23, pp.197–224.