grief Photo courtesy of Help GuideOpens in new window

Grief is a complex, often long-lasting reaction to a loss. The loss may be anything of central importance to a person such as another person, a job, a home, one’s physical ability (i.e., becoming disabled may lead to grief), and other losses. Most often, research and theorizing about grief has focused on the aftermath of death of a loved one.

Bonanno, Goorin, and Coifman (2008) identified four characteristics of grief.

  1. First, it is a state that endures, usually lasting between a few weeks and several years.
  1. Second, it may be associated with a variety of emotions, notably sadness, and other negative emotionsOpens in new window, such as angerOpens in new window, fearOpens in new window, guiltOpens in new window, and others. Some positive emotions may also be present at points during the grieving process, including happinessOpens in new window, pride, and amusementOpens in new window.
  2. Third, the event that precipitated the grief state was a blow to one’s understanding, either of oneself or of the world, or both. Grieving therefore involves a re-creating of meaning; identity may become restructured and/or worldviews may transform.
  3. Fourth, grief involves extensive, long-term efforts at coping.

Bonanno et al. (2008) and other researchers suggest that the occurrence of positive emotionsOpens in new window during grief is healthy. Experiencing positive emotions punctuating the negative emotionsOpens in new window makes it less likely that the individual will slip into a downward spiral of negative emotion that could become a dysfunctional state such as clinical depressionOpens in new window.

Psychotherapist J. William Worden wrote Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy (2008), a handbook for mental health professionals who treat grief. He discussed four tasks that constitue grieving, which are:

  1. to accept that the loss is real,
  2. to feel the pain of the loss,
  3. to adjust to the new circumstance and environment without the lost person or object, and
  4. to withdraw one’s emotional energy from the lost person/object and attach the energy to a new person/object.

Knowledge of these four tasks can help the mental health professional identify areas of grieving in which the client is having difficulty.

Grief has engaged the interest of researchers and thinkers from diverse fields such as psychology, philosophy, anthropology, and others. Anthropologists have observed grief reactions across cultures noting both similaritied and differences.

For instance, in mainstream American culture, a death is typically followed by a single funeral. In some other cultures, deaths may be commemorated in several ceremonies over several years.

Grief is a popular theme in the arts. For centuries, novelists, musicians, and poets have described or represented grief in eloquent and moving fashion. This universal and profound experience is sure to continue as a common theme in art and an intriguing field of inquiry in science.

See Also:
  1. Bonanno, G.A., Goorin, L., & Coifman, K.G. (2008). Sadness and grief. In M. Lewis, J.M. Haviland-Jones, & L.F. Barrett (Eds.), Handbook of emotions (3rd ed., pp. 797 – 810). New York: Guilford.
  2. Worden, J. W. (2008). Grief counseling and grief therapy: A handbook for the mental health practitioner. New York: Springer.
  3. Moffat, M.J. (1992). In the midst of winter: Selections from the literature of mourning. New York: Vintage.
  4. Parkes, C. (1997). Death and bereavement across cultures. New York: Routledge.