The bereavement process can take a toll both physically and emotionally. Finding support and working toward closure helps many people heal.
Bereavement takes many forms and has many effects. When you experience the death of a loved one, whether they’re a family member, friend, or beloved pet, the impact of bereavement lasts well beyond the loss itself.
Bereavement comes with many secondary stressors, both mental and physical. You may get sick more easily. You have a greater risk of certain diseases, and you have a greater risk of depression and anxiety.
Your relationships with friends and family may change. If you helped with caretaking, you may have lost part of your daily routine, or you may have lost the person who was your closest confidant. You may feel depressed, angry, relieved, or all of these things at once.
Working through the five stages of grief takes time and isn’t linear, and everyone’s journey through bereavement is different. You may find that you need a therapist or a support group to help you, and you’ll find links to resources below.
Some people think bereavement just involves feeling sad. But it can be far more intense, both psychologically and physically, when you lose someone you love.
When you’re facing bereavement, you might experience the following signs, symptoms, and conditions:
- trouble sleeping
- loss of appetite
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- increased susceptibility to illness, or increased risk of acute or chronic disease
- suicidal ideation
Factors contributing to how strongly you’re affected by bereavement include the nature of your relationship with your loved one, how your loved one died, and the circumstances around their death.
You may have lost your child. You may have lost your spouse. A close friend or family member may have died by suicide. A longtime pet may have become sick and died unexpectedly. These are all examples of situations that could affect the intensity and duration of bereavement, but they’re not the only examples.
Typically, it takes about a year to stop feeling grief acutely. But for some, bereavement turns into complicated grief. Complicated grief, which affects 2.4% to 6.7% of people after bereavement, may intensify and persist over time.
If you’re often under stress, have trouble adapting to new situations, or have experienced previous trauma and grief, you may be particularly
Bereavement is intensely personal, and the way you cope with the loss of a loved one will differ from how others cope — even those who are affected by the same person’s loss.
But there are ways to manage bereavement that are helpful to people in a variety of circumstances around loss.
A grief support group, whether general or targeted to a specific kind of loss, may help you feel less alone in your grief, as it allows you to talk to people in similar circumstances.
In a study of bereaved parents whose children died in pediatric intensive care units,
In general, the more social support you receive, the less isolation you experience, and the more you’re able to discuss the circumstances of your loss, the more manageable bereavement will be.
However, there are people for whom bereavement intensifies over time rather than abating, and if that happens to you, it can help to talk with a medical or mental health professional.
In general, if you remain immobilized by grief more than a year after your loss, and your grief is affecting your daily life, it may be useful to discuss a solution with a healthcare professional, whether that’s your primary care physician or a trusted therapist.
If your grief becomes complicated, seeing a therapist who specializes in grief or attending a grief support group (particularly one targeted to the type of loss you’ve experienced) may help.
Bereavement is hard, it’s complicated, and it’s personal. Its difficulty is a reflection of your love for the person you lost. Time usually helps — even if, despite the old adage, it doesn’t heal everything.
Engage your support networks: family, friends, neighbors. If you feel alone, a support group might help. If you don’t know where to look, ask your doctor or consult our guide here.
If, after a year, you find yourself unable to function because of the intensity of your bereavement, you might have moved into complicated grief. It may be time to consider seeking help from a therapist trained to deal with grief.
Above all, you are not alone. There’s help out there and resources to find it.