It is critical to know the difference between grief and mourning. Both processes are there to help the bereaved face the reality that their loved one is gone and then to slowly begin to accommodate to that fact. This accommodation phase is essentially the ongoing process of adjustment the mourner must make both internally (psychologically) and externally (socially, behaviorally) to his/her loss.

Recognizing the Difference Between Grief and Mourning

Grief is the natural psychological, behavioral, social, and physical response which helps the mourner recognize the loss and get ready for the larger and often longer experience of mourning. As Therese A. Rando says, “Grief is actually the beginning part of mourning.” Mourning that is complicated by certain risk factors (see article on Rando’s 7 risk factors for complicated grief and mourning), may last a number of years if not forever under some circumstances.

Uncomplicated acute grief, on the other hand, may last a number of months and in some cases, even longer. In other words, one can mourn but not be in acute grief. Therefore, by definition, mourning is a more encompassing phenomenon that involves more than grief.

The difference between grief and mourning is most important in treatment considerations. Many therapists help bereaved individuals with expressing their feelings, thoughts, and reactions to the loss (grief), but not with the next challenges, such as adapting to the new world without the deceased (mourning). Consequently, mourners can be left alone to restructure themselves and their worlds after a loss.

David Fireman, LCSW