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Death and Dying for the Bereaved


When a family members dies, the grief experienced is a natural reaction to the loss and separation from someone you love dearly. This grief is described in various ways depending on the authors of these various studies; however, the different models generally classify the grief response into 3 general phases.


In the Avoidance phase, you are confronted with such a great loss that you go into shock, denial, and disbelief. That is a natural reaction to the impact of such a blow and if the loss was sudden and unexpected, your response may be more intense.

You can have outbursts of emotion or quietly withdraw, acting mechanically without feeling or even feel like you are outside of your own body. Men typically give the appearance of accepting the death and acting responsibly to show control.


During the Confrontation phase, You realize your loved one has died, the grief experienced is most intense and your reactions are most acute. This phase is described as a painful time of angry sadness. These emotions are the result of losing your loved one and attempting to readjust to a world without the presence of that person.


During the Accommodation phase, there is a gradual decline of grief. The bereaved is beginning an emotional and social reentry into everyday life. Mourning still goes on and the loss is not forgotten. You know you will survive but you realize that you will never be quite the same. You are changed by the loss, coping with the new life without your loved one and as a result developing a new relationship with the deceased. You form a new identity by reinvesting your emotional energy in new relationships and pursuits. The mourning continues but intense grief is becoming fewer and less frequent.

The bereaved needs to go through each of these phases. They need to fully experience and express all emotions and reactions to the loss so they can let go of the attachment to the deceased allowing them to recover and reinvest in their new life.

These phases are broad categories based on major time periods and you can move back and forth among them. Not everyone will experience all of the reactions because responses are based on the psychological, social and physical factors of the bereaved.

As for the psychological effects, they are very intense and you may feel the emotions are not common to you and seem strange in the context of the loss. The emotions could be intermittent or present all of the time. The reactions may be so different from your normal feelings and mode of behavior that it can bring fear and anxiety. Feelings of powerlessness, vulnerability, and being out of control are common. Feelings of anger can develop and they can be displaced unto other people or even God as a result of your distress over the failure of your value system, religion, or belief in God to sustain you in your grief. Feelings of guilt, legitimate or not, separation pain, disorganization, depression and despair are common emotions also. You can't seem to relax and let your guard down. Rumination or obsession with the deceased occurs because you are afraid that you will forget things about the deceased. Grief spasms or an upsurge of grief that occurs suddenly and when least expected may occur or they could come in waves that produce emotional and physical sensations.

The second way in which grief affects you is one of a social nature. You feel restless and uninterested in your usual activities because of a lack of initiative or energy. You become bored or irritated with others. You lack motivation and direction since you are only interested in reuniting with your lost loved one. Preoccupation with your own grief is primary and nothing else matters -- the focus on the lost relationship causes you to neglect other relationships.

The third way in which grief affects you is through your physical being. Stress on one part of your body causes stress in another part of your body. The physical ills can be a manifestation of your grief and that could be a positive indicator. Sometimes the only indication that grief still remains unresolved is through demonstration of physical symptoms.

One needs to be aware that not everyone grieves alike. Each person has a relationship with the deceased that is unlike any others relationship; therefore, grief is very individualized and idiosyncratic. While there are a number of universal elements in a grief experience, they will be experienced in a very individualistic way depending upon the factors discussed previously, namely the psychological, social and physical.

Some of the psychological factors that may affect your grief include:

  • the nature of the severed relationship,
  • the role the deceased filled in your family,
  • and the unfinished business between you and the departed.

Your personal characteristics also determine the extent of grief and include:

  • your personality and ability to cope,
  • your maturity,
  • your past experiences with loss and death,
  • and the presence or absence of concurrent stresses in your life.

The specific circumstances of the death also affect your grief and include:

  • sudden versus expected death,
  • your perception of the preventability of the death,
  • the immediate circumstances surrounding the death,
  • and your anticipatory grief and involvement with your dying loved one.

The social factors affecting your grief include:

  • your social support system,
  • your social, cultural, ethnic, religious, and philosophical background,
  • your educational, economic, and occupational status,
  • and your funerary rituals.

Finally, your physical well being and health also affects your extent of grief and your ability to cope with it.

The grieving process as covered above is a learning experience. Lack of knowledge about experiencing and completing the mourning process can lead to unhealthy grieving. Denying, delaying, inhibiting, or displacing feelings can lead to exaggerated or prolonged grief. One may see prolonged grief as a statement of love for the loved one but it is really a pathological grief. When one contains their grief and handles their wounds and sorrows privately, severe consequences can result. There is definitely a relationship between grief and depression. Unless grief lifts, depression will get worse.


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Last modified 3 July 2019.
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