Grief and Bereavement: Patterns of Bereavement & Stages of Grief

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  • 0:05 Bereavement, Grief and…
  • 1:12 Attachment Model of…
  • 2:09 Four Main Reactions to Death
  • 3:56 Patterns of…
  • 7:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Melissa Hurst
Death is a term most are familiar with, but the underlying emotions and processes that accompany death are not. This lesson will define and detail the stages of grief and bereavement. In addition, this lesson will differentiate between the grief process of children and adults.

Bereavement, Grief and Mourning Defined

This is Jay. Jay just lost his beloved dog, Chase. Chase was a member of Jay's family for ten years, and Jay is taking it pretty hard. Throughout this lesson, we will see how Jay deals with Chase's death through the responses of grief. We will also differentiate between bereavement, grief and mourning. Finally, we will see how different members of Jay's family interpret and deal with the death of their beloved pet dog.

Jay is currently in bereavement. Bereavement is a state of loss. Jay is also displaying grief, defined as an emotional response to a loss, through a period of mourning. Mourning is a culturally prescribed way of displaying reaction to death. We will see Jay display the typical emotional responses to his dog's death, such as sadness, anger and guilt. We will also see Jay mourning as he buries his pet and leaves flowers on the grave.

Attachment Model of Bereavement

Grief and bereavement research was spearheaded by Colin Murray Parkes and John Bowlby. Bowlby's research on infant attachment helped form the research on grief and bereavement. According to these researchers, a grieving adult is much like an infant who experiences separation anxiety when his or her parent disappears from view. The researchers indicated that as humans evolved, they not only learned to form attachments but also protest when their loved ones leave.

The Parkes/Bowlby attachment model of bereavement describes four predominant reactions to the death of a loved one. The researchers point out that these reactions may overlap each other and should not be viewed as stages one should (or does) progress through.

These reactions are:

  • Numbness
  • Yearning
  • Disorganization and despair
  • Reorganization

Four Main Reactions to Death

Numbness: In the first few hours after Chase died, Jay was numb. He had feelings of disbelief and almost emptiness. He was able to tell his family the bad news and think about the logistics of burying his pet, but all in a dream-like state. The full weight of Chase's death had not yet registered.

Yearning: The next few days, as the numbness wore off, Jay was in agony. Grief comes in waves, and the yearning typically lasts five to fourteen days after death. Jay had feelings of panic, couldn't sleep and was unable to concentrate. He also kept thinking that he saw Chase running around, but it was always another dog. During yearning, people may be irritable and experience anger and guilt. Jay felt guilty for not spending more time with Chase the last few months of his life. He also expressed anger toward the veterinarian for not being able to save Chase.

Disorganization and Despair: As time passed, Jay felt less intense pangs of guilt and yearning. The reality sank in that Chase was gone for good. Jay became apathetic and depressed. This response may last up to a year for some people grieving the loss of a loved one or pet. Some people may lose interest in their friends, work and outside activities, and shut down emotionally.

Reorganization: Eventually, Jay was able to compose himself. He devoted less energy to the attachment and loss of Chase and more energy to his friends and other remaining pets. The loss is still hard to deal with from time to time, but Jay was able to remember Chase and still move forward with his life.

Patterns of Bereavement Through the Lifespan

Infants, children and adults deal with death through different reactions and levels of understanding. Let's see how the rest of Jay's family dealt with the death of Chase.

Infants - Two Years Old

Jay's baby sister lacks the cognitive capacity to understand death. Infants and young children divide their thinking into two categories: things that are here and things that are gone. Later, they add a subcategory of things that are dead.

When loved ones die, infants and young children will often display similar characteristics as adults. They engage in protest (such as crying) and yearning, and they search for their loved one. After the loved one does not return, the infant may show grief through a poor appetite, restlessness, clinginess or regression to less mature behavior. However, after a few days, the young child will enter a detachment phase and take a renewed interest in toys and other people. If there is another close attachment figure on whom the infant or young child can rely, recovery from a loss will be more complete.

Here we see Jay's sister crying for Chase over and over again after he died. After a few days, however, she becomes interested in the family pet cat and seems to have recovered from Chase's loss.

Young children react to death differently than adults.
Infant Grief


Children have a basic understanding of death, but their comprehension differs by their views of the following concepts:

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