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 death of a parent.
Although not a formal medical diagnosis, 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 meaningless and 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.
What is mourning?
As opposed to grief, which refers to how someone may feel the loss of a loved one, mourning is the outward expression of that loss. Mourning usually involves culturally determined rituals that help the bereaved individuals make sense of the end of their loved one’s life and give structure to what can feel like a very confusing time. Therefore, while the internal pain of grief is a more universal phenomenon, how people mourn is influenced by their personal, familial, cultural, and societal beliefs and customs. Everything from how families prepare themselves and their loved ones for death, and understand and react to the passing to the practices for preserving memories of the deceased, their funeral or memorial, burial, cremation or other ways of handling the remains of the deceased is influenced by internal and external factors. The length of time for a formal mourning period and sometimes the amount of bereavement leave people are allowed to take from work is determined by a combination of personal, familial, cultural, and societal factors. Mourning customs also affect how bereaved individuals may feel comfortable gaining support as well as the appropriate ways for their friends and family to express sympathy during this time. For example, cultures may differ greatly in how much or how little the aggrieved individual may talk about their loss with friends, family members, and coworkers and may determine whether or not participating in a bereavement support group or psychotherapy is acceptable.