Maudsley Health

World-class research-led learning experience attracts the very best students from around the world who enjoy unrivalled learning opportunities, supported by strong partnerships with NHS Trusts, industry and healthcare organisation.

Understanding Grief and the Grieving Process

Death is a universal truth – the inevitable end of any biological form. Grief, or the process of grieving, serves as a recovery path for an individual or survivor to come to terms with their loss.

Defining Grief
While death of a loved one evokes the strongest of grief reactions, abstract losses – including relationship breakups or loss of employment – can also result in grief.

The severity of grief is determined by the individual or survivor’s strength of attachment with what they are losing, and its perceived importance to them. It can also depend on how the loss happened, and whether is was sudden or unexpected or drawn out. Furthermore, complexities of human nature, individual personality, cultural expectation n, norms or values, religious beliefs and social circumstances greatly influence grief and the grieving process that follows. Having said that, like our personalities, the grieving process is individual and therefore cannot be generalised for a community or society.

The Grieving Process
Commonly experienced emotions following a loss through death are feeling stunned or emotional numbness for the initial period. This can be followed by feelings of yearning or agitation towards the dead or even feelings of survival guilt. During this phase an individual can also experience symptoms of depression as they may be socially withdrawn, may burst into tears for no apparent reason, may experience sleep difficulties or problems with their attention and concentration. However, these symptoms gradually improve with time. Eventually, stage of ‘letting-go’ which is the final phase of grieving, helps individual start their ‘new life’.

What can help a grieving individual?
In terms of the grieving process itself, various cultural and religious rituals performed play an important role in the healing process. Crying is a normal part of grieving, however, a lack of crying can also be considered as normal or resilient response. Receiving support from family and friends aids the recovery process. This allows an individual to share their feelings of distress or emotional pain and cry with someone if they want to. A person who is grieving may repeat their stories again and again, however this too is part of the recovery process and can be encouraged. Special occasions such as a festive season and anniversaries can be particularly difficult time for these individuals and support from family and friends can make it less stressful for them. Sometimes, practical help from others can help reduce the burden of day to day living and help them cope better with demands of daily life.