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Understanding Bereavement: Grief After a Loved One Dies


Woman with candle near black granite tombstone outdoors, focus on red rose. Funeral ceremony

The pain of losing someone close to you can feel overwhelming. You may experience a range of painful and unexpected emotions, from shock and anger to disbelief, guilt, and sorrow.


When you’re grieving, it can be hard to eat, sleep, or even think clearly. This is a normal reaction to loss, and the more significant the person was in your life, the more intensely you may grieve.


What is bereavement?

Bereavement is the period of time that immediately follows the death of a loved one, while grief is your emotional response to the loss. Mourning is how you express your grief outwardly, and it’s often influenced by culture and religion—for example, dressing in black.


Bereavement is different for everyone. How long it lasts depends on many factors, including how close you were to the person, your coping skills and support system, and the circumstances surrounding the person’s death.

 

Listen to Say Their Name, a 2021 Webby & New York Festival Award-winning podcast series covering the assault and killing of unarmed Black people by police.

 

Common signs and symptoms of grief

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. It’s a highly personal experience, but there are some common signs and symptoms, including:

  • Shock and disbelief

  • Physical pain

  • Anger

  • Difficulty accepting the death

  • Fear

  • Feelings of hopelessness

  • Intense sorrow

  • Bitterness or resentment about your loss

  • Guilt

  • Numbness or detachment

  • Depression

  • Lack of trust in others

  • Trouble focusing

  • Survivor’s guilt

Grief often comes in waves, and it’s normal to have intense, painful feelings that come and go. You may start to feel better but then suddenly experience a wave of grief, especially around significant dates like holidays and anniversaries.


Experiencing a range of emotions during the grieving process is normal. But if you struggle to carry out normal activities more than a year after your loved one’s death, you may have complicated grief. Seeing a doctor or mental health professional for grief counseling can help. So can support groups.


 

“Grief is the price we pay for love.”

- Colin Murray Parkes

 

Factors that can affect grief

The relationship you had with the person who died, the circumstances surrounding their death, your age, and many other factors can affect how you grieve and the emotions that come up for you.


Each loss is different, and the grieving process is often harder if you have a history of conflict with the person who died or if you have unresolved feelings.


Caring woman hugging her crying black girlfriend, comforting her after receiving bad news

How police violence compounds grief for Black Americans

The death of a loved one is always difficult. But losing someone to suicide or violence can be especially traumatic, leading to complex grief.


Friends and family members who lose a loved one this way may wrestle with feelings of anger, confusion, and disbelief. They may feel an overwhelming need to get justice for their loved one.


This experience is far too common for Black people and people of color in America, who are much more likely to lose someone to police violence.


These families are often thrust into the position of having to become their own legal representatives, media spokespeople, and policy experts just to be taken seriously—all while being denied the time and space they need to grieve.


Worse, many have had to defend their loved one against racial stereotyping or have been used as political pawns in the backlash against calls for police reform and community investment. Families who demand justice and reform often face threats of violence for their activism.


Grief is hard enough in the best of circumstances. No one should have to go through this. Yet many of the families highlighted in our podcast series, Say Their Name, have had just these kinds of experiences.


It’s why we created the New York Festival & Webby Award-winning series. We wanted to shed light on how families and communities are affected by the rampant problem of police violence against unarmed Black men and women in America. Hear directly from family members, friends, and others about what it’s like to lose someone to police violence and how they’re fighting back against a corrupt system. Listen Now.


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