Loss and Bereavement - What's the Difference

Why do I make the distinction between loss and bereavement?

Well, bereavement is a reaction to the death of a (normally) loved one. This can be a devastating occurrence. There are factors that influence our reaction to death such as:

  • Whether it was expected
  • Where we were at the time of death
  • The nature of the death
  • The nature of our attachment to the person who has died
  • How old we/they are
  • Our belief systems
  • Our support systems
  • Usually there are certain rites and rituals that are observed and the mourner is given space and time before resuming their place in society. However things that interrupt the mourning process can still occur.

Freud thought that ‘Mourning has a quite precise psychical task to perform: its function is to detach the survivor’s memories and hopes from the dead’  Sometimes that is precisely what we do not want to happen and this is when we may become ‘stuck’.

How about loss:

As well as obviously happening with a death there are other ways that loss happens that are not so readily identifiable:

  • Loss may occur through the incidence of ill health where you as you know yourself to be are lost. It may cause sorrow, frustration, envy, anger, and loss of sexual potency, loss of financial stability and support for the family, loss of the future you had held as a certainty.
  • Loss may occur through redundancy resulting in loss of worth.
  • Loss occurs with divorce and separation.
  • It may happen when your child is born with a disability: the child that is born to you is not the child that you loved in your dreams and you may grieve for what has been loved before finding that you can find a different kind of love.
  • Loss occurs when a much anticipated pregnancy ends too early to sustain a viable life
  • Loss occurs with abortion
  • Loss may occur when the love of somebody is lost to another.
  • Childhood sexual abuse rips from a child their innocence in ‘losing’ their virginity.

I used to think that the North American phrase ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ was a little irreverent and over the top certainly not British.   The more that I have counselled those in need through Bereavement and loss the more I see how relevant the phrase is and the more privileged I have felt in assisting  people to make sense of what has happened and to find a purposeful  direction that accommodates the changes that loss and bereavement have made to their life.

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