The Difference between Grief, Mourning, and Bereavement

These three words are often heard and yet many times their true meaning gets lost. It is worth a moment to stop and understand the difference between these words in service of your grief journey.

What is grief?

Grief is our internal experience to loss. This includes the thoughts and feelings that each of us have when someone we love dies. Our ability to grieve stems from our capacity to give and receive love.


Many of us have been given the message that grief is something "to get over." The reality of the situation is that grief is not something that one "gets over." Rather we integrate our grief by being touched by the feelings. In a way it is our grief that manages us or guides us rather than us trying to manage our grief. Grief is integrated when it is welcomed rather than being based on a set time.

What is mourning?

Mourning, often heard interchangeably with grief, is different. Mourning is the outward expression of our grief. In other words, it is our shared social response to loss. In simple terms, mourning is grief gone public.

It is through authentic mourning that our grief begins to soften. The fancy term for this process is perturbation which is the capacity to experience change and movement. Emotions are a vast source of information for us and that extends to grief as well. At times grief is something many of us want to run away from or evade because the emotions that come along with it don't feel good. However, when we run away from those emotions and deny them a chance to be felt we set ourselves up to be stuck in grief. Emotions want to be felt. They need motion. That is not to say, however, that there isn't a time and place for touching into your grief and touching back out briefly.

What is bereavement?

One final word to explore on your grief journey, bereavement. To be bereaved is be torn apart and to have special needs. After the loss of a loved one in our lives we may feel torn to pieces or feel like there is a hole in our lives. And we do have special needs. Things are different and our needs have shifted.

No matter where one is on their grief journey, it is a journey. Moving from our internal feelings and thoughts into authentic mourning and knowing that we can't go back to the way it was before. Rather, we seek a new integration, a new normal, all the while knowing that there will be days when tears will flow or smile will come. Be in 5 days after the loss or 50 years. Welcome your journey.

by Kimberlee Bow, MA, LPC, R-DMT, CT
NILMDTS Community Outreach

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