The Difference between Grief, Mourning, and Bereavement

emotions grief Feb 16, 2022

By Kimberlee Bow, MA, LPC, R-DMT, CT, ACS, CFE/T, RSME/T, RYT500


This is the first post in a series around the topic of grief. With everything happening in the world, such as the global pandemic, the hope for this series is that the information will be of service to you in your own journey and also for those that you interact with within your life. While the focus will be around death loss, the ideas, concepts, and information can be applied to other types of loss like job loss, relationship loss, etc. 


Let’s begin our journey together by taking our first steps.


Grief. Mourning. Bereavement. What do these words mean? Even beyond the words, what do these words mean for individuals? Each of these words speak of a different experience or part of the grief process. All important to understand.


What is grief?

Grief is our internal experience of loss. All the thoughts, feelings, physical symptoms, and unexpected behaviors that each of us have when someone we love dies are part of our grief. A lesser-known aspect of grief is that our ability to grieve stems from our capacity to give and receive love. Grief and love exist on the same coin, just different sides, intertwined.


In some cultures, people proliferate the notion that grief is something “to get over.” However, while this information may be well-intended, this message may not be the case. Grief is something we integrate into our lives by being touched by our feelings rather than something we “get over.”


Grief encompasses more than just the feeling of sadness, which is most often associated with grief. Other feelings may come along in a grief journey such as shock, confusion, anxiety, anger, regret, or even relief. There are no right or wrong feelings and emotions, they may exist in combination, and change from minute to minute. Furthermore, as our minds attempt to make sense of the loss, different thoughts may arise such as memories, events surrounding the loss, worries, and concerns about what is to come, in addition to many more. Our bodies even feel grief. Other experiences may arise from our bodies experiencing the loss, appearing as trouble sleeping, low energy levels, muscle aches and pains, headaches, and digestion troubles among others. During this time our behavior may be different. There may be crying, pacing, yelling, or isolating occurring. Interactions with others may also seem to be out of character for ourselves. As some of these different experiences can mimic other physical or mental health conditions, it can be a wise idea to make sure to visit with a medical professional for a check-up.


What is mourning?

Mourning is oftentimes used interchangeably with grief. However, they are different and present as different processes. Mourning is our outward expression of our internal grief process. In other words, it is our shared social response to loss. A phrase that might help solidify the difference, is that mourning is grief gone public.


It is through the process of authentic mourning that grief begins to soften. A fancy term for this process is perturbation - the capacity to experience change and movement. Emotions and feelings are a vast source of information for the human experience. This is especially true for grief. At times during the grief process, we may want to run away from or evade our grief because the experiences may be painful or uncomfortable. However, when the feelings and emotions of grief are denied rather than felt, the chance of becoming stuck in grief increases. If the “e” and “s” are removed from the word ‘emotions’, motion is the word that remains. Emotions need motion and want to be felt. That is not to say that there is not a time and place for touching into your grief and touching back out in the process of titration. 


What is bereavement?

One final word to explore at the beginning of this journey, bereavement. To be bereaved is to be torn apart and to have special needs. After a loss occurs in our lives, there may be a feeling of being torn to pieces or the feeling of a hole in our lives. And when there is a loss in our lives, people do have special needs, as things are different and our needs have shifted.


Thank you for your time in reading this post and beginning this journey. The journey continues next month with another blog post that will build upon the steps taken today.


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