• Thanatology Today

What is the Difference Between Grief, Bereavement, and Mourning?

Updated: 6 days ago

Grief, bereavement, and mourning are often used interchangeably, but the subtle differences in the meanings of these terms are important and indicative of where we are on our journey of learning to live with loss.


Grief: Reaction


To put it simply, grief refers to our reaction to loss. More specifically, the word, grief, encompasses all the initial, instinctual responses to a perceived loss. Common manifestations of normal grief are experienced psychologically, physically, behaviorally, and cognitively.


Common Manifestations of Normal Grief

chart: common signs of normal grief

For many, grief can also reflect an intense spiritual searching for a sense of meaning, anger towards God or higher power, and feelings of inadequacy in coping with the loss.


The chart above does not represent an exhaustive list of the many signs of grief. It is also important to note that no two people grieve in the same way, and an individual’s experience and expression of grief don’t always match up.


Grief certainly disrupts our internal and external balance. It threatens our sense of identity and well-being. It brings to mind our own mortality and recalls our past losses. Nevertheless, as uncomfortable as it can be, reacting and responding to loss is a healthy, necessary process.


Bereavement: State of Being


Although the term, bereavement, generally implies that someone close to us has died, it simply refers to the state of having suffered a loss – any loss. It is the objective reality of loss. For the person having experienced a loss, bereavement must include two essential elements:


1. having a relationship with someone or attachment to something

2. being separated from or deprived of someone or something


We can be bereaved without an acute grief reaction or significant period of mourning.


woman praying
Where are you on your journey of learning to live with loss? Source: Wix Media

Mourning: Process


Mourning refers to the long-term adjustment to a great loss. It is an active process, by which we accept the reality of the loss and cope with its many implications. Mourning does not follow an invariant sequence. Stage-based models have proven to be inaccurate because not all mourners progress in their journey of accommodating for their loss in the same way.


Personal meaning reconstruction is at the heart of mourning, making it a potentially transformative experience. Mourning and meaning making take place on an intrapersonal or private level and on an interpersonal or public level involving various practices and rituals. Expressions of loss are unique, complex, and culturally influenced.


In short, mourning signifies grief for a lifetime. It knows no timeline. Resurgences of grief will occur. Internal and external struggles can persist. We don’t “get over” a major loss. We learn to live with it.


The capacity to grieve and to mourn – to ache for our losses and to treasure our memories – is what makes us human.



Corr, C.A., Corr, D.M., & Doka, K.J. (2018). Death & dying, life & living (8th ed.). Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

36 views

Recent Posts

See All
Golden Steel Plate