Loss in life can be emotionally overwhelming, and there’s no standard timeline for recovery. But grief that lessens naturally over time, intermixed with moments of joy, can indicate signs of uncomplicated bereavement.

Loss isn’t easy, especially when you lose something close to your heart like a loved one. Sadness, disbelief, and guilt are a few of the natural reactions you may have when something important isn’t in your life anymore.

It’s OK to grieve. In fact, being able to express grief is an important part of bereavement. When you’re able to express grief and move forward through your life during loss, it’s known as uncomplicated bereavement.

Uncomplicated bereavement refers to a temporary period of grief and mourning after a loss. How long the bereavement period lasts is different for everyone.

What classifies bereavement as temporary and uncomplicated is that you eventually feel grief subside to a point where it doesn’t impact your everyday life. Uncomplicated bereavement is grief that takes an expected course toward improvement.

Signs of uncomplicated bereavement

Signs you’re experiencing uncomplicated bereavement include:

  • feelings associated with loss improve as time goes on
  • negative emotions of grief are interrupted by happy memories and shared moments of joy
  • you’re slowly returning to your regular daily routine
  • as time passes, thinking back on your loss is less likely to trigger overwhelming emotions

How you grieve and how long it takes are individual to you. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way. When the bereavement process is uncomplicated, your loss eventually stops occupying your every thought.

According to literature from 2009, one of the biggest signs of uncomplicated bereavement is the shifting of acute grief to integrated, or abiding, grief.

Acute grief is your immediate reaction to loss. It can involve intense feelings of:

  • sadness
  • despair
  • hopelessness
  • thoughts of disbelief
  • anger
  • guilt

Acute grief is characterized by behaviors and emotions you wouldn’t typically experience in your everyday life, like uncontrollable periods of crying or disinterest in doing anything other than mourning.

Integrated grief is the gradual return to your usual state of functioning where you still remember your loss but you’re once again able to enjoy other aspects of life. In integrated loss, feelings of sadness can return with certain memories or on meaningful days, but they don’t preoccupy the majority of your time.

What’s the difference between grief and bereavement?

The definitions of grief and bereavement vary across literature. Consensus suggests bereavement is the period of time you spend grieving after a loss, while grief is the emotion associated with loss.

Often, bereavement is used to specifically refer to the grieving period after the death of a loved one.

Uncomplicated vs. uncomplicated grief

The concepts of uncomplicated grief and complicated grief are similar to those in relation to bereavement.

Uncomplicated grief is grief that gradually improves, while complicated grief doesn’t improve even after significant time has passed.

Complicated grief from the loss of a loved one that causes impairment in everyday life is known as prolonged grief disorder (PGD), a mental health condition where symptoms prevent you from continuing on with your life.

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Prolonged grief disorder, commonly referred to as complicated grief, is a mental health condition where overwhelming feelings of grief after the loss of a loved one don’t subside over time and cause impairment across important areas of function.

Symptoms of PGD include:

  • feeling that life is meaningless after loss
  • intense feelings of loneliness or longing
  • emotional numbness
  • difficulty re-engaging with friends, family, work, or school
  • disinterest in pursuing hobbies or plans for the future
  • a persistent disbelief about the loss
  • intense emotional pain
  • avoiding people, places, and situations that are reminders
  • feeling as though part of you has been permanently lost or has died
  • constantly thinking about your loved one or their memories

The defining feature of PGD is that grief is not improving.

According to criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR), PGD can be diagnosed when grief has persisted for at least a year without significant improvement. In children, it may be diagnosed after 6 months.

There is no wrong way to go through uncomplicated bereavement, but there are ways you can help cope with the process and ease the transition back to everyday life.

Surround yourself with support

When you go through loss, it’s natural to feel very isolated and alone. Surrounding yourself with family and friends during this difficult time not only provides comfort, it lets you connect with and share support with others going through the same experience.

Express your feelings

When you can’t stop thinking thoughts of grief, expressing them can interrupt their endless cycle in your head. If you aren’t ready to share your thoughts in conversation, writing them down in a journal can be just as helpful.

Try self-care

The bereavement period can zap your motivation to do much of anything, let alone focus on yourself. Taking time out for some self-care can boost your spirits and improve your overall well-being during the grieving process. Self-care doesn’t have to be major. Sometimes sitting outside in the fresh air is enough.

Be gentle with yourself

It’s OK to grieve. Uncomplicated bereavement is about going through the process, which is almost always challenging.

During this time, be gentle with yourself. Try to avoid scheduling major changes like a move or a job shift. Allow yourself time to adjust.

Seek professional guidance

Even when you’re experiencing uncomplicated bereavement, speaking with a mental health professional can help. A therapist can offer a safe place to express your feelings and can help you learn new coping strategies for your loss.

Uncomplicated bereavement refers to a temporary period of grief and mourning, often after the loss of a loved one. During uncomplicated bereavement, feelings of grief subside over time, allowing you to return to your regular routines.

Expressing your grief, being gentle with yourself, and taking time for self-care can help you through the uncomplicated bereavement period.