Grief is a multi-faceted response to loss. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, and philosophical dimensions. Common to human experience is the death of a loved one, whether it be a friend, family, or other close companion, and in fact the word "grief" comes from the same root as "grave." While the terms are often used interchangeably, bereavement often refers to the state of loss, and grief to the reaction to loss. Losses can range from loss of employment, pets, status, a sense of safety, order, or possessions, to the loss of loved ones. Our response to loss is varied and researchers have moved away from conventional views of grief (that is, that people move through an orderly and predictable series of responses to loss) to one that considers the wide variety of responses that are influenced by personality, family, culture, and spiritual and religious beliefs and practices.

Bereavement, while a normal part of life for us all, carries a degree of risk when limited support is available. Severe reactions to loss may carry over into familial relations and cause trauma for children, spouses and any other family members: there is an increased risk of marital breakup following the death of a child, for example. Issues of personal faith and beliefs may also face challenge, as bereaved persons reassess personal definitions in the face of great pain. While many who grieve are able to work through their loss independently, accessing additional support from bereavement professionals may promote the process of healing. Grief counseling, professional support groups or educational classes, and peer-led support groups are primary resources available to the bereaved. In the United States, local hospice agencies may be an important first contact for those seeking bereavement support.

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Author's Bio: 

This definition is part of a series that covers the topic of Grief and Bereavement. The Official Guide to Grief and Bereavement is Sandy Clendenen. Sandy Clendenen lost her husband and best friend in 1999, after twenty-one years of marriage. Her grief process was lengthy and complex. Sandy felt stuck in layers of unresolved grief. As part of her healing, Sandy filled numerous journals with her thoughts and feelings. A review of these journals several years later revealed insights into the grief process which Sandy is now committed to sharing with other grievers. Sandy attended seminary for 3 years. She also received her Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology. Sandy has also worked in various areas of hands on healing. Sandy incorporates her vast personal experience and education into her grief coaching products and services.

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