What Is Bereavement, And How Can I Find Support?

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated June 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Many words and phrases are associated with losing a loved one. Words like "grief," "mourning," and "bereavement" are often used when describing this event and the emotions that come along with it. However, many people may not know the meaning of "bereavement," as it can be used in several settings. 

Many sources define bereavement as the period following a profound loss. However, other types of losses can cause bereavement, such as the end of a significant relationship, a miscarriage, or a change in health status. Some bereavement definitions are more comprehensive, referring to the emotions experienced after a loss. In some cases, bereavement refers to the benefits offered by an employer after losing a family member or the time spent off work. Regardless of the definition of bereavement you relate to, finding support after a loss can be essential.

Are you feeling consumed by prolonged feelings of grief?

What are the stages of bereavement?

Grief is the response to a loss. Most people will experience grief and loss at some point in their lives. There is no right or wrong way to experience grief, and the timeline can vary. 

The period in which an individual experiences grief and mourning after a loss is known as bereavement. Bereavement can involve great sadness and other difficult emotions that can last days to years. 

The experience of bereavement and the emotions of grief can endure for a lifetime, with many experiencing grief in different ways. Bereavement may often be complicated by other factors such as age, relationships, previous experiences, and the manner of the loved one's death.

The experience of losing a partner, child, parent, or close friend can be so overwhelming that it takes a long time to process the emotions. The survivor may learn to cope with loss while mourning their loved one. For many, grieving involves stages, which may be outlined by the Kubler-Ross "five stages of grief" model, a popular theory. The stages in this model are outlined below. 

Numbness and shock 

In the initial stage, mourners may not fully believe their loved one is gone. This stage may be beneficial because it might allow emotional space for someone to complete practical tasks that often follow death. For example, they may focus on planning a funeral, resolving financial issues, or moving. Oftentimes, bereavement leave is when these actions may take place. However, problems can arise when someone becomes "stuck" in the numbness and shock phase. In some cases, the bereaved person might go for years without fully accepting that a loved one is gone. 

Anger, guilt, and blame 

After the shock has worn off, you may feel angry with anyone you perceive could have prevented the loss. These feelings could be directed toward a deity, the universe, God, family members, medical staff, or yourself. You might also find yourself angry with the person you've lost. These feelings may take you by surprise with their intensity, but they can be normal. 


In the bargaining phase, the bereaved person may desperately yearn for their loved one to return. If you're experiencing this stage, you may find yourself making "bargains" in the hope that you can change the circumstances. For example, you might say, "If they were alive now, I'd do better and make changes." 


In the depression stage, the grieving person may feel sad and withdrawn. In this phase, you may think about your lost loved one often. Unexpected events in daily life may cause extreme sadness. For example, you might hear a song that reminds you of them. 


During the acceptance phase, you may begin to adjust to a new life in which your loved one is absent. You may consider this your new normal. Although you may still miss the person who has died, you may have come to terms with the fact that your future no longer includes them. However, you might feel something is missing, and little reminders may pop up to rekindle your feelings of loss months or years later.

A note on the stages of grief 

Grief may not always fall neatly into stages. Your emotions may be unpredictable, and feelings of anger, sadness, guilt, or depression can appear at any time; you don’t necessarily work through them all in a specific order. The "five stages of grief" theory is a model that may be beneficial for some people but doesn't fit others. If you don't relate to this system, that can also be normal. 

In addition, it can be beneficial to distinguish between situational depression following a loss and clinical depression. Some individuals develop symptoms of clinical depression after losing a loved one. Due to the removal of the bereavement exclusion in the DSM-5, individuals can be diagnosed with a depressive disorder in the context of grieving a significant loss.

Are you feeling consumed by prolonged feelings of grief?

How do youth experience bereavement?

With children, bereavement may manifest itself differently than it does with adults. Children may struggle to tolerate the intensity of their grief all at once, so their bereavement period may appear shorter than an adult's. However, symptoms of grief can appear sporadically throughout their lives, brought on by events such as birthday parties, summer vacations, or an argument with a friend. Each developmental milestone may bring a new aspect of the grieving process for youth.

Children may also not use verbal expressions of their grief. Rather, their grief may show up in their behaviors. Below are a few common behaviors that children may exhibit when grieving the death of a loved one.

  • Sleep problems (difficulty sleeping, bedwetting, nightmares)

  • Helplessness, clinginess, or increased dependence on parents

  • Withdrawal, avoidance of school or social situations

  • Changes in appetite and eating patterns

  • Re-enactments of death or death-related themes in their play

  • Physical symptoms, like headaches and stomachaches

Keep in mind that every child and every loss can be different. Grieving behaviors might look different based on the age, gender, and personality of the child and their relationship with the person who died. Every child will show their need for support in a different way.

Infants and toddlers

Infants and toddlers may also be aware when a familiar person who used to care for them is no longer there. They may respond negatively to disruptions in their routine, and babies may actively search for the missing person. They may become fussy and cry more or become less active and experience weight loss.

Young children (5-11) 

Children may experience growth challenges after loss. They might act younger than they are or try to take on some of the lost family member's responsibility. They may also cry often and rely on a parent or caregiver for guidance. Children on the younger end of the spectrum may not fully understand the impact of their bereavement; bereavement may be more of an abstract concept.

Pre-teens and adolescents (12-19) 

Pre-teens and teens may struggle to understand how losing a loved one fits in with their life. As they often go through various stressful developmental milestones, they may put off their grieving or hide their emotions to appear stronger than they feel. They may also become angry or irritable or use unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance use. 

Complicated grief or prolonged grief disorder

The intensity of grief often fades in time, and many people can continue living their lives as before. This period is known as uncomplicated bereavement.

However, in some cases, the symptoms of grief can linger and be debilitating, which may lead to what is known as complicated grief or prolonged grief disorder. Difficulty coping might occur if you are stuck at a particular stage, unable to move forward, or highly distressed. If the loss of your loved one was traumatic, you might also have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, or depression. Some symptoms of prolonged grief disorder include:

  • The inability to focus on anything else besides memories of your loved one

  • A preoccupation with sadness

  • A sense of meaninglessness and a lack of purpose

  • Difficulty carrying out everyday routines

  • A belief that you caused the death or could have prevented it

  • Numbness and detachment

  • Intense longing for the deceased person

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

If you are experiencing the symptoms of complicated grief, seek professional advice and support. You're not alone, and there are techniques you can use to manage your symptoms. 

Coping strategies for the bereavement process

Understanding grief and the coping strategies for grief can be crucial steps for many. Whatever your unique situation may be, below are a few strategies for coping with the death of a friend or a loved one healthily: 

  • Be patient with yourself: Avoid setting a time limit for grief. You may feel better for several weeks and then suddenly have a setback. Make it a policy to allow yourself to experience all the challenging emotions that come with loss. Lean on compassionate friends who want to help.

  • Take care of your physical health: The work of grief can be exhausting. Take care of your body by eating nourishing foods, exercising, getting enough rest, engaging in self-care, and finding outlets for managing stress.

  • Ask for help: Seek a supportive network of friends who can be a listening ear when needed. It may also be helpful to ask friends and family for help with practical chores like cooking, cleaning, or caring for children.

  • Get professional help if needed: If you struggle to find meaningful support in your personal life, it can be helpful to seek the advice of a trained professional or support group.

  • Avoid self-medicating: While self-medicating may temporarily relieve the pain, it can have dangerous impacts and may make your symptoms worse. 

Bereavement may feel like an insurmountable obstacle to peace and contentment. However, with time and support, healing can be possible.

Counseling options for those experiencing bereavement 

When grieving, it can be challenging to leave home, set appointments, or make time for a commute to a therapist's office. If you're struggling to find an in-person mental health professional who specializes in grief counseling or grief center, you may benefit from talking to an online therapist through a platform like BetterHelp.

Studies confirm online therapy's efficacy in supporting people experiencing bereavement, prolonged grief, or complicated grief. In a 2022 study, researchers used internet-based grief therapy with the hopes of helping bereaved individuals who lost a significant other due to hematological cancer. The therapeutic approach, rooted in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), issued a sequence of ten writing tasks in three phases: self-confrontation, cognitive restructuring, and social sharing. The results showed that the online therapy approach effectively reduced symptoms of prolonged grief disorder and accompanying syndromes in a timely, available manner.

People experiencing grief may find online therapy to have several advantages over in-person therapy. First, the ability to schedule appointments from the comfort of one's home reduces potential stress from being in public while experiencing visible symptoms of grief. It can be difficult to find much motivation when you are bereaved; bereavement counseling from your favorite spot on the couch may be what helps you process what you’re feeling. Additionally, online therapy is often a more cost-effective option than in-person therapy. 


Many people go through grief and bereavement, and it is often thought of as a universal part of shared humanity. You may say goodbye or experience losing friends, families, partners, pets, and role models unexpectedly. Expressing and processing grief is healthy and may not follow a linear track. If you're struggling to understand your grief or would like further support in your bereavement process, you can contact a professional therapist anytime for guidance.
For additional help and support with your concerns
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started