Bereavement and Coping of the Death of a Loved One

"And can it be that in a world so full and busy the loss of one creature makes a void, so wide and deep but nothing but the width, and depth of eternity can fill it"- Charles Dickens


There is a general consensus that death and life are deeply connected; one can not find a definition for death, without having a definition for life. The problem is that there is no definitive definition for these two most natural and most important events on the planet. From medical and legal professionals, to astrobiologists and lay people, we all need to know what life and death are. The confusion around these terms has a deep impact on our life : the debates around abortion, stem cells, assisted suicide, organ transplant are proof. Why don’t we have an answer, yet?. There are many reasons, religious, cultural, historical, socio – political. The simplest reason is that both life and death are very complicated events, that involve all structures and processes, from the complexity of our spirituality to the smallest atom in our body. Scientists from all fields, even the most remote ones, were intrigued by the questions about life and death. One of them was Erwin Schrodinger, the genius behind the “indetermination equation” , that stated that an electron is mass and wave in the same time, and that changed the physics and the world. It may be strange that I mention a book about life in a project about death, but it is wholly worth it. Schrodinger’s book is ranked about the best scientific writings in history. He tried to apply the Quantum Mechanics to Genetics, that led him to the idea of an “aperiodic crystal” ; this “aperiodic crystal” inspired scientists like Francis Crick and James Watson (of DNA fame), and led to the birth of a new, progressive science, molecular biology.

Schrodinger, E. (1945). What is life? The physical aspect of the living cell,. Cambridge [England: The University Press.

Definition of Death

It is interesting to note the historical content of dualism life-death. In our days death is considered the end of life. For millennia, in many cultures and religions life was regarded as preparation for death. It was only in the last centuries, with the development of sciences, when people looked for a true definition of death. There are 3 major definitions, that refer to cardiopulmonary system, whole brain, and higher brain.
Any attempt to find a definition of death should start with two basic questions : 1. What is human death?; 2. How can we determine that it has occurred? 1. The simplest definition would be 1. “Death is the irreversible cessation of organismic functioning” and 2. “Human death is the irreversible loss of personhood”. Standards to establish death are the cardiopulmonary and the whole brain standard. The author shows how advances in medical care (respirators), and revolutionary surgical procedures (organ transplant) complicate the two definitions. The current mainstream view about the human death is “the irreversible cessation of functioning of the entire brain, including the brainstem”. This, along with cardio-pulmonary cessation is the most accepted standard to declare death, both in USA and Canada. The author makes us aware that this standard is very questionable. He brings proof from anatomy, medicine ( e.g. locked-in syndrome), psychology, law, etc. The criticism of this whole brain standard led to be amended with the provision that not all, but only critical functions must be lost. A progressive alternative to the whole brain standard is the higher brain approach. Death happens when the higher brain is incapable to recover consciousness. In this “higher brain standard” the crucial issue is the conscience; it is the lack of consciousness that defines death. Therefore, arguments must be made that it is indeed so. One powerful argument is that consciousness is our essence of human beings; our essence is our conscience, and we do not exist without it. The debate around this idea takes a large part of the article. Similar debates are around whether the definition of death is a moral issue, or if consciousness may be linked to prudential value. Besides the “whole brain” and “higher brain “ definitions, the author discusses the old “cardiopulmonary” definition .This definition came back in the surgical world, when the organ transplantation started, and the need for viable organs was increased. There is a strong controversy around this subject, described in detail in this article. All the three definitions are based on three assumptions that may be contested : 1. Death is more or less determinate, more event-like than process-like, 2. There is a uniquely correct definition of death, 3. Human death is is morally a very important marker. The author takes every one of the three assumptions, and shows that they are debatable: (1) death seems to be a process, not a determinate event, (2) death seems to be a cluster concept, hard to define in a classical way, (3) death should be separated from moral concerns (definitely, a very controversial idea).
Definition of death is usually the subject of books ; this article is one of few that is comprehensive and concise. It is written at “present tense”, giving us all the important contributions to the subject. The last three chapters are written at “future tense” challenging us to think outside the box. Almost each affirmation, and definitely all hypotheses are debated with depth and competence. David DeGratia is a moral philosopher, specialized in medical and animal ethics. He wrote several books on the ethics of life and death.

DeGrazia, D. (2011). The Definition of Death. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition ed.).

Defintion of Grief

“Bereavement” and “ grief” are often used interchanged. In their simplest definitions,” bereavement” refers to the loss of a loved one by death and “grief “ refers to the distress resulting from bereavement. Grief is a ‘‘complex set of cognitive, emotional and social difficulties that follow the death of a loved one”. Grief is associated with an increased risk for a variety of psychological and somatic ailments. In some cases the intensity and duration of these reactions reach levels that qualify them, according to the standard classification systems, “mental disorders.” This type of grief is called “pathological” or “complicated“ grief. The question these days is whether pathological grief should be officially considered a disease, either independently, or as a member of the mental disorders group. The social consequence of this move will be a better care for those patients, and a substantial increase of health spending, given that the patients are mainly from the increasing group of old people. Scientifically, there is no solid definition for pathological grief, no clear answer to the question what are the criteria to define it, what makes it different from the normal grief, its relationship with other disorders. It is not clear what syndromes comprise it, and , based on it, what are the criteria for a valid diagnostic.

Stroebe, M., van Son, M., Stroebe, W., Kleber, R., Schut, H., & van den Bout, J. (2000). On the classification and diagnosis of pathological grief. Clinical Psychology Review, 20(1), 57-75. Retrieved from

The definition of grief has been continuously amended, due to the progress in various areas of research. Classical theories, as Freud’s based “grief work” , came under severe scrutiny, due to the lack of empirical evidence. Older theories, as “attachment theory” , or newer ones , as the “meaning-making”, the “cognitive stress theory”, and “ the dual process model of coping” are widely debated. An important finding in the bereavement research is that the responses to loss are widely variable, from normal grief to complicated (pathological) grief. Some individuals do not experience distress or grief after bereavement. Positive emotions may be experienced following the loss. Grief counseling may not work, or even have negative effects in cases of normal grief. We started to understand, and even identify and measure neuroendocrine, immunologic and sleep response in grieving subjects. All these items lead us to the conclusion that a correct definition of grief is not only medical; grief is an individual and societal event , with potential medical consequences.

Janice L. Genevro et al. REPORT ON BEREAVEMENT AND GRIEF RESEARCH, Death Studies, (2004) 28:6, 491-575, DOI: 10.1080/07481180490461188

Symptoms of Grief

People express their grief through physical, emotional, social and spiritual symptoms. The type and intensity of grief symptoms is an individual matter. It depends on the particular loss, the relationship with the lost person, the personality, and the life experiences of the grieving person, age and emotional development. It also depends on the cultural, religious, and social rules of the community. Physical symptoms may be headache, appetite loss, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, pains, and other stress related ailments. Emotional symptoms most frequently are sadness and yearning. Also present are symptoms of worry, anxiety, frustration, anger, guilt. Social symptoms are isolating from others, behaving in ways that are not normal for the subject. Spiritual symptoms are questioning the reason for loss, for pain and suffering, the purpose of life and death. Complicated grief can cause long term serious symptoms, as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and actions, physical illness. A normal grief can cause depression symptoms, but rarely a full blown depression. What is the relationship between bereavement , depression and depression symptoms : how are the bereavement symptoms induced; is bereavement a natural state, or a disease from the Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) family ? To answer, the authors of this article evaluate the traditional theory and compare it with their own, pioneering explanation. The traditional theory of latent (or hidden) variable considers depression a latent variable that cannot be seen or known by itself, but only through its symptoms. In this theory grief triggers depression, that then leads to symptoms; grief does not act directly on the depression symptoms. In their explanation the authors use for the first time the network model. In this model the grief directly affects certain depression symptoms, which then activate other symptoms. Their experiment consisted in comparing 241 recently widowed people with 274 control subjects, still married. The subject were asked about their depression symptoms, measured by the 11- item Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale ( CES-D). The widower group scored significantly higher for symptoms of loneliness, sadness, depressed mood, and appetite loss, as compared with the married group. Their scores for happiness and enjoyment of life was significantly lower. The direct effect of bereavement on the symptoms are inconsistent with the latent variable models, but they can be explained by the network model. The network model explains very well the experimental finding that grief affects first and at a highest extent the loneliness, and this one in turn causes other symptoms to develop. The article is to be commended for its originality in successfully using the network model to explain the experimental data, It has an extensive reference list, good statistic apparatus. A couple of bad notes can be made relative the subjects : most of them were too old, women and white. The most negative note is that the authors did not keep their promise : is grief a natural stage, or a form of MDD ? One more note about the authors of this article. Among them is a very well known bereavement specialist, Margaret Strobe, that, among others, coauthor with Henk Schut of “The Dual Process Model (DPM) of Coping with Bereavement”, published in 1999. DPM is a model that aims to offer better ways to adapt to the life stressful event that is grief. It was received with big interests by psychologists that either have tested it, or have applied it. The interest was still big after 10 years, so that the entire volume 61 # 4 (2010) of “OMEGA. Journal of Death and Dying “ was dedicated to this model. DPM was at a certain extent a pioneer work. The present group of authors have a similar pioneer approach of another grief questions , using for the same time in this field the network model.

Fried, E. I., Bockting, C., Arjadi, R., Borsboom, D., Amshoff, M., Cramer, A. O. J., … Stroebe, M. (2015). From loss to loneliness: The relationship between bereavement and depressive symptoms. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, doi:10.1037/abn0000028

Among illneses caused by complicated grief are diabetes type 2, arthritis, high blood pressure, as well as other some neuro-endocrine and immunological diseases. Grief was reported to be associated with higher frequency of cancer, heart diseases, strokes, mortality. The studies about grief and inflammation are less conclusive: many are contradictory, or statistically unreliable, due to the low number of subjects, or insufficient control of the experiment. Therefore it is not clear if and how grief results in inflammation. The authors suggest a pathway, namely the effect of grief on the health behaviors. It is well documented that grief leads to smoking, alcohol consumption, dietary changes, weight gain, increased BMI. All these result in impaired health that may increase inflammation. The authors also suggest an alternative hypothetical pathway of the impact of the psychological grief on the physiology of inflammation It is known that processes associated with grief activate the hypothalamic – pituitary – adrenal (HPA) , that results in higher secretion of cortisol and catecholamines . This may cause disruptions in the immune system, leading to variations in the levels of inflammation markers. In this article, the authors asses the association between grief and levels of inflammation markers and cortisol levels. A second question was whether there was a dose-response relationship between the number of deaths experienced and inflammatory biomarkers. Another question raised was the role of BMI, along with cortisol and number of chronic conditions in the correlation between grief and inflammation.
The study started with a statistically significant number of subjects (1255), cut down to 529, after the unacceptable subjects were removed. Urine cortisol and six inflammatory biomarkers were studied, among them Inter Leukin – 6 (IL-6), C – Reactive Protein (CRP) , sE – Selectin . Psychological measures of grief ( depression, subjective well being, quality of sleep, BMI, alcoholic drinks) were compared with the levels of inflammation markers. The results showed two biomarkers significantly increased in the grieving group, compared with the non-grieving group: IL – 6 and sE – selectin. These two biomarkers were also significantly increased ,as a function of the frequency of grieving. BMI and the number of chronic conditions partially mediated this correlation. The biomarkers showed significant variation with age, sex, behaviours like drinking and smoking. The most valuable finding of this research is that it shows a significant increase of IL-6, as a function of the number of bereavements. It also brings a highly desired contribution to the very pauper field of study of adherent molecules and stress, showing the increase of sE-selectin in the grieving persons. Various statistical methods are successfully used to eliminate the confounding parameters. The biggest problem for this article comes from sample selection. The authors were determined to have as little bias as possible in their data interpretation, so they excluded from their groups any patient with significant diseases. They had no depressed people in their study; no conclusion was drawn regarding cortisol. Miri Cohen, the lead author of this article, is the head of the Department of Gerontology, Faculty of Social welfare, at University of Haifa, Israel. She has a Ph.D. in Immunology. Her areas of interest are, among others, stress, coping, and health in the old age, mind – body relationships (the interrelations between psycho – social factors, physiological factors, and health) . This very recent paper, written with scientists from the University of Toronto, is in the line with her interest on stress and health, namely inflammation.

Cohen, M., Granger, S., & Fuller-Thomson, E. (2015). The association between bereavement and biomarkers of inflammation. Behavioral Medicine, 41(2), 49-59. doi:10.1080/08964289.2013.866539

Coping Mechanisms With Grief

One of the hardest challenges we can face is dealing with the death of a loved one. Loss is known as a unfortunate natural aspect of life, but we can still feel shock, prolonged depression and confusion. The sadness aspect does ease over time, but acceptance of what happened and grieving is an important step into moving forward. Coping with the death is an unfortunate but must be done in order in order for them to move forward. There are both positive and negative ways of coping with death, in which can rather help ease the pain or have a unhealthy effect on the individual and cause greater consequences. There are various amounts of feelings that one can feel when coping with the death of a loved one. The negative implications can be suicide, rejection, shame, anger as well as guilt.

Parker, H. A., & McNally, R. J. (2008). Repressive coping, emotional adjustment, and cognition in people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 38(6), 676-687.

Gamino, L. A., & Sewell, K. W. (2004). Meaning constructs as predictors of bereavement adjustment: A report from the scott & white grief study. Death Studies, 28(5), 397-421. doi:

Five stages of loss

There are typically 5 stages of loss—-denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.


Denial and Isolation

By denying that the death happened, they are encompassing that the death didn’t occur and are trying to rewrite history. This leads to isolation, as the truth of the situation is too hard to handle.

Anger is one of the most common aspects of coping with the death of a loved one. The individual goes through a plethora of emotions and anger is usually follows after denial. By being angry, they don’t have to deal with the despair of not seeing the departed anymore.

This reaction is to get control of the situation as the bereaved is generally feeling helpless and vulnerable. The logic behind this method is to ask the question of –if—. If I had only arrived sooner then…? If I treated them differently then this would of happened?

This is the most common coping mechanism of grief. Dealing with the mourning and the isolation can take a toll on even the strongest individual. There are various thoughts that populate the mind, and being isolated and introverted consequently can lead to negative outcomes.

The final stage is actually not awarded to everyone. If the previous stages are not dealt with accordingly professional help may need to occur. Everyone deals with death and grief in different ways. There is no time frame, or method that determines what’s right and wrong. This is accompanied by a sense of calm.

Konigsberg, R. D. (2011). The truth about grief: The myth of its five stages and the new science of loss Simon & Schuster, New York, NY.

Michal, S. (2009). Coping, grief management, and self-discovery of mothers who have lost children to sudden death (Order No. AAI3320294). Available from PsycINFO. (622046074; 2009-99040-413).

Challenges of Grieving

There are various claims on how to deal with grief yet every circumstance is different. Some can deal with grief and get back to their normal lives, and some become depressed and additional means of support get implemented. One of the unfortunate results is suicide. Age does not discriminate in this aspect of grief. Young kids who lose their parents, or the elderly that have been married for decades. They feel like the loss and the devastation would not end thus taking their own life would be the only solace. With the younger generation, it is urged for them to seek counseling from a psychologist or even calling the kids help line would steer them in the right direction. It truly doesn’t matter what the cause of death, bereaved individuals may succumb to intense and distressing emotions.

There is no time frame for how grief is dealt with. It can’t be said that if you follow all the different stages of loss that you will come out at the end renewed and ready for everything. It is recommended that if the bereaved is struggling, there is a prolonged timeframe of depression and they may be doing harm to themselves then a support group and professional help would be implemented. Support groups offer a chance to talk without judgment and hear different stories from people who can relate to what they are going through. In the groups they can find encouragement, and suggestions to what should be done about moving forward.

Andersson, T. E. (2013). "Nobody talks about suicide, except if they're kidding": Disenfranchised grief, coping strategies, and suicide survivor identity in peer suicide grievers (Order No. AAI3529837). Available from PsycINFO. (1442390882; 2013-99170-489). Retrieved from

Coping with the death of a loved one is a profound personal experience. Generally everyone deals with it differently. Some people accept the help of family and friends. While others want to be left alone and don’t want to talk about it. There is no right coping method, and generally the healing process cant be rushed. The only thing that can be done is to be there for them, listen to them and offer support when needed. If it seems that the bereaved party is in a state of depression and is on the path of prolonged despair then professional help may be needed. It can't truly be said that one way is better than another, or that the hurt and sadness will one day not be there but there are ways to start the healing process so that the bereaved can start the process of resuming their life.

Schiffman, D. D. (2004). Coping with sudden infant death: An integrated approach to understanding family grief and recovery(Order No. AAI3119777). Available from PsycINFO. (620622659; 2004-99018-005).

Anderson, M. J. (2011). Coping and assumptive worldviews: Comparing parents of murdered children and parents of missing/returned children in the management of their grief (Order No. AAI3413006). Available from PsycINFO. (868226621; 2011-99060-234).

Sudden Death Vs Expected Death

Sudden Death: Suicide and Accident

The bereavement after dealing with a suicide is different from dealing with the loss after a fatal accident for the following reasons: Suicide displays feelings of embarrassment, rejection, being punished for something and the major, primary feelings of guilt and shame. (Barrett & Scott, 1990). Death by suicide has a strong social stigma attached to it, which has worsen the psychological effects during the mourning process of an individual’s family/friends/peers.
Research studies on bereavement following the death of a suicide victim show that survivors or families coping with suicide receive less support after the death vs. someone dealing with death with accidental death. (Calhoun, Abernathy, & Selby,1986; Calhoun, Selby, & Abernathy,1984). It is also shown that they are more at risk of suicide themselves.
Results of this bereavement study show that suicide survivors were deemed more depressed than accident survivors- this is also associated with feelings of guilt and shame which have major psychological effects on individuals already dealing with depression and who are at major risk of suicide.
The intensity of grieving may also include many different independent variables such as sex, depression, the impact on the family and how much social support they receive.
The effects on adult life have resulted in more divorce, separations and difficulties with their children vs. people who have experienced the loss of someone because of a fatal, sudden accident. Although both these deaths are sudden and unexpected, suicide remains to have the more intense effects on others and even suicide survivor. This is because of the surrounding negative stigmas (to assume that one has a mental illness therefore that’s the reason for their attempted suicide) as well as the accompanying feelings or shame and guilt associated with someone who has committed (or attempted) suicide. Death by fatal accident is unexpected but is not followed by the choice or desire to die therefore feelings of guilt and shame aren’t typically present.

Séguin, M., Lesage, A., & Kiely, M. C. (1995). Parental bereavement after suicide and accident: A comparative study. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 25(4), 489.

Expected Death: Short-term vs. Long-term Illness

By looking at the psychological effects of death on an individual, we have to take into account the different circumstances of deaths and how this might alter the outcome or intensity of the grieving process. Ultimately, families/people dealing with death by short-term illness tend to adjust more easily to the process of bereavement. This happens because the period of illness is shorter term therefore the pain of loss isn’t dragged on, causing more for closure. This isn’t the case for long-term illness, where families coping with this type of death/circumstance are forced to deal with a longer period of grieving, mourning, expecting the death of a loved one as well as watching their loved one suffer. They are constantly thinking about losing that loved one and the loss becomes are more intense feeling even with a proper chance to let go.

Sanders, C. M. (1982). Effects of sudden vs. chronic illness death on bereavement outcome. Omega: Journal of Death and Dying, 13(3), 227-241.

The theory behind grieving is not completely accurate or relevant to every individual. Although theorists have introduced certain stages of the grieving process, each individual is unique and may not all mourn in the same stages or way. That being said, there are, however, common psychological effects, common ways in how people react to death, different physical and behavioural effects of grief and bereavement.
People experiencing the sudden death of a loved one tend to experience harsher and more intense processes of mourning – death is never anticipated by anyone, the suddenness of death can prolong feelings of depression and the overall grieving process. These individuals also have a higher chance for morbidity within two years after the death of a loved one.
By expecting a death, individuals or families are able to prepare themselves for the tragic reality and this may even give them a better chance to say goodbye and receive closure after the loved one has passed away.

Kent, H., & McDowell, J. (2004). Sudden bereavement in acute care settings. Nursing Standard, 19(6), 38-42.

Different Cultural Ways Of Dealing With Bereavement

We all grief differently, as there is no correct way to grief the loss of a loved one. There is no universal method of how to cope with death, we all experience this hardship differently. Death is not only about the process of saying goodbye but also causes a huge change in life. There are many beliefs and spiritual significances about what lies after death which may vary through culture and society. Grieving and mourning differ throughout different ethnicities and cultures. Through cultural context such as where one lives, their religion and social believes a Country may have their own traditions and rituals throughout this grieving process.


Within Greek mythology it is believed that once deceased you will journey to the afterlife in which is ruled by Hades; the ruler of the underworld. They believe that the dead belong to this other separate world, nevertheless even with this comfort of knowing that their spirit is in another world you still grieve for their loss. The Greeks have customs instilled to prevent complicated grief reactions and to help cope with the death of a loved one. Although there are positive perceptions about the afterlife, it is believed that when someone dies the “evil spirit”, therefore it is a custom to open all the windows for the evil to be washed out with fresh air. The body will be laid in a coffin on the tables, and candles will be placed near its head. Here the family and friends will have the wake in order to say its last goodbyes, the wake typically lasts 24 hours. The head of the deceased has to face the door which symbolizes that they are ready to leave. As soon as the wake is finished the coffin is carried to the Mass. Two women will stay at the home to clean for the after funeral gathering. It is routinely seen to pour water out of a glass then break it at the front porch to get rise of the evil that death has brought the family. After the mass friends and relatives will return back to the house of the deceased, the ritual here is for the relatives while walking to the house to shout out their name when approaching the porch. The purpose behind this custom of shouting out ones name is to enable the soul to come out of the body. At the memorial service the family will boil wheat and offer it to relatives, this custom represents the reciprocity and solidarity between the living and the dead. In some villages such as the one of Crete the sister and the wife/mother will cut off their hair to cover the body of the deceased as a symbol of strength. For a years length Cretan families grieve by wearing all black, and men will grow out their beards.

Mystakidou, K., Tsilika, E., Parpa, E., Katsouda, E., & Vlahos, L. (2004). Death and grief in the greek culture. Omega: Journal of Death and Dying, 50(1), 23-34
Danforth, L.M. (1982). The death rituals of rural Greece. UK: Princeton University Press

Chinese Culture

When looking at how a culture deals with bereavement, it is important to remember that that Countries religion may have a influence on the approach that their people take. The Chinese culture for example is influenced by a mixture of many religions such as Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, religiously speaking China is quite diverse. Some examples in which is seen in a grieving Chines family would be weeping, or wearing plain dull coloured clothing and suppressing oneself from happy events. The rituals of burial however depend on who has died, for example if a child dies it is considered by society to be a bad death, as the child is not blessed, therefore the funeral will not be elaborate and no display of grief is physically seen, however the pain of grief is still there within the family. Since it is viewed as a “bad death” the parents and children will not go to the funeral as it is believed that it will bring the family more misfortune as well as the deceased child will not receive worship from the living. As the Chinese culture favours the birth of a boy over the birth of the girl, the death of boy would cause a greater loss to society and therefore cause greater sadness. Ways of grieving their child would be the family visiting the grave site, or burning incense to the child as a tribute.

Ho, S., & Brotherson, S. E. (2007). Cultural influences on parental bereavement in Chinese families. Omega: Journal of Death and Dying, 55(1), 1-25.

Papua New Guinea

In Papua New Guinea, there are many villages to consider when speaking of ones way to bereave, in this example we will examine how Lihir copes and grieves the death of a loved one. In New Guinea, the coffin in made from an old canoe which is known as “pako”, and in the case of infants the coffin is made off timber. The deceased is wrapped in laplaps (a type of cloth), placed in the coffin and set on a bench in front of their house, this is where the deceased will be buried. A cross carved with the decease’s name and date of death is placed near the coffin. The chief mourners such as close relatives; son daughter wife will stand furthest from the coffin and will behave and grieve differently than other at the funeral service. The Yumi Lotu which is a cook of Catholic services and hymns would be used at funeral services. Panpan kut na Kanut is the final night of mourning, the deceased body has still not been buried and is laying on the bench. This is the final night of chatting and eating with the deceased and known as the last day to mourn and grief. Mourners are not left alone to grieve on their loss, they socialize and stay active. Once the burial sorrow and grieving is rare, however stories of the deceased is passed along to remember their loved one.

Hemer, S. R. (2010). Grief as social experience: Death and bereavement in lihir, papua new guinea. The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 21(3), 281.

Evolution And Psychology Of Grieving

By looking into the historical background of bereavement and the psychology of grieving, we can see some main arguments given by different psychologists. The topic of bereavement has been studied and elaborated on by Robert Burton in 1621 who argued that grief and loss was the main cause for depression. Freud also shared the view that depression is often the result of the loss of a loved one (Burton, 1953).
Of course, as the psychology of grieving has been more and more developed; we can now see that there are many other emotions and mental illnesses that surrounds bereavement. Anderson has argued that a range of psychological disorders (for example anxiety as well as depression) can also be triggered by experiencing bereavement.

Sex Differences

We can also see the evolving concept of mourning between the sexes. In some cultures, men and women arguably express their grief equally. However, in more modern societies, women tend to show their grief and mourning more than men. Psychoanalytic theory tells us that men tend to suffer more from the repression of grief than women. These theories are being tested even in the more modern era of psychology; for example in this day and age, men and women are more likely to grieve in different ways due to the changing societies and constructed expectations of gender roles, attitudes & conducts; how a woman must act vs. how a man must act. For example, men are seen as weak if they cry. Women are seen as the more sensitive sex, therefore it’s normal for them to be more emotional during the process of grieving.

Parkes, C. M. (2001). A historical overview of the scientific study of bereavement. In M. S. Stroebe, R. O. Hansson, W. Stroebe & H. Schut (Eds.), Handbook of bereavement research: Consequences, coping, and care. (pp. 25-45) American Psychological Association.

Evolution Of Survival Instincts

Throughout the last century, the concept of bereavement has been mostly studied from a psychiatric and clinical lens. The pathologizing of grieving has created a way for the biological and psychological aspects of grief to be more recognized.
In 1989, Wortman and Silver created the first list of “Myths of coping with loss”.
The list consists of the following myths:
1. Distress or depression is inevitable
2. Distress Is Necessary, and Failure to Experience Distress Is Indicative of Pathology
3. The Expectation of Recovery (individuals are assumed to recover from initial loss after a period of approximately 3 weeks)
4. Reaching a State of Resolution (it is assumed that over a period of time, individuals will accept and resolve any feelings of depression related to loss)
5.Implications for Theory, Research, and Intervention (assumed theory that all individuals will go through an intense mourning period at the initial loss)

This list continues to change even in the more modern eras, as psychologists continue to study the effects of loss and mourning of individuals in different societies.
In modern day, psychologists focus more of grief reactions and psychological processes and mechanisms in individuals. While it may seems straight forward, the cumulated studies have found that thinking positively helps one’s bereavement process while thinking negatively impacts the grieving process and in fact, makes matters worse.
Humans share the same basic grieving behaviours with many animal species. The feeling of grief has stemmed from our instinct of survival; so by losing an important bond with a loved one or someone important to us, we experience intense distress caused by the permanent separation of us and our loved one (this could be a parent-child, spouse, sibling etc.).

Bonanno, G. A. (2000). Evolving (finally) toward new insights on grief and bereavement. PsycCRITIQUES, 45(5), 490-493.

Wortman, Camille, and Roxane Silver. 'The Myths Of Coping With Loss'. N.p., 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.))]

Do Animals Grieve

Animals are capable of recognition, attachment, and bonding. They are capable to make sense of an impending death. Animals are quick to learn to distinguish between safe and dangerous humans or animals. An example to hos animals grieve would be Eeyore. When Eeeyore's owner Cardwell died, Eeeyore retreated to a hole under the house where she whined and moaned, she refused to eat and would not let anyone near her, after one and a half week of grieving Eeyore died. In animals grieving can be seen through refusal to eat, different behaviour routines, body language or facial expressions. According to Barbara J. King, some people may wonder if this is anthropomorphism, are humans just being soft hearted and projecting their feelings onto animals trying to make them more intellectual? Barbara believes that if we open our eyes to animal thinking and feeling we will be able to see if for what it is and see that animals do in fact grieve.

Carson, U. (1989). Do animals grieve? Death Studies, 13(1), 49-62. Retrieved from

Extra Recourses


Extra helpful blogs and recourses that would help one cope and grief with their loss including workshops, support groups and teen lines
Open to Hope.
This website allows you to read stories that other people have shared. They are also experiencing a loss and express their feelings. There is an option at the bottom of the page that says “Write for us” where anyone can submit personal stories about their experience with loss. At the top of the page, there are tabs such as “Death of a parent”, “Death of a sibling”, “Death of a spouse” and “Death of a child”. Open to Hope also provides Radio podcasts of people sharing their stories, articles, as well as HOPE TV; episode of shows created by Open to Hope on death, grief and loss of a loved one.
CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health)
CAMH provides many workshops and events, which are updated on their website daily. This centre is the largest mental health centre in Toronto, dedicated to supporting children, teens and adults in different situations regarding mental health and or illness. By clicking on their “Events” tab, you can see what workshops they have listed. CAMH is an excellent option for counselling, or even drop-in workshops and events. This is an excellent source of support.
Bereaved Families of Ontario- Toronto
This site provides one on one support bereavement sessions as well as mutual support groups where anyone can share stories and express feelings. This organization also provides events that are updated regularly; check out their Butterfly release and picnic in High Park!
VENT (the app)
This app allows you to express your current feelings and thoughts. Your account can be anonymous or not, where other people can see your “vent” and offer support! Their motto is “Get it off your chest”.
This site offers a lot of information on how to cope with bereavement and grief.
It offers myths and facts about grief, stages of grief, common symptoms, and in depth tips on coping with loss; to seek support from friends or family, to draw on faith, to join therapy or counselling sessions. This site also reminds us to take care of ourselves during periods of grievance. Let’s face our feelings, express our feelings in creative ways, and look after our physical health as well as mental.
TEEN LINE: Death, Dying, Illness, & Grief Support
This site is very support-based. It offers a cool section called “Message Board” where anyone can post a topic and ask questions or seek feedback for what they might be experiencing or going through. This allows other people to respond to your message with their own advice and personal experience and for people to come together and support each other going through similar situations.
Grief Healing- Discussion Groups
If you are looking for a discussion forum for grief, this is the site to visit. You are able to post stories, feelings, thoughts, questions etc. on the topic of loss or your process of grieving. People can respond to your posts and share experiences, as well as support each other in similar situations.

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