What is bereavement?

Bereavement, also known as grief, is the period after a loss: This might be the loss of a close family member, a friend or a partner. The time that you spend on grieving is unique to everyone and it also depends on how emotionally attached you were to the person that you lost (Witz, 2015).

Sometimes you might experience feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, while feeling unbearable pain, or different emotions and you might feel that you do not know how to deal with these emotions.

You might even feel that the people around you expect you to act “normal” when in fact it might take you months or years to accept the loss of someone. One of the important aspects to remember is, mourning is a normal thing to do and everyone deals with sorrow in their own way, there is not a set of rules to follow in dealing with it.


What kind of symptoms can I experience during a process of bereavement?

  • A feeling of shock, disbelief and feeling lost or lifeless
  • Sometimes a feeling of denial – “It is not true!” and “This cannot be happening to me!”
  • “Why has this happened?” and “Why did it happen to me?” as well as strong emotions of anger
  • Feelings of guilt – “If only I knew” 
  • Feelings of great sadness and longing for the person and maybe negotiating – “If I can only get another chance”
  • In some instances, you might feel depressed and experience feelings of “Life is meaningless” or “I also want to die”

You might also go through stages in which your behaviour changes for example you have a loss of appetite or eat more to find comfort, or you might have difficulty in falling asleep or experience nightmares, or battle with concentration problems and an inability to focus on your studies (Grohol, 2019; Witz, 2015).


What can I do?

  • Take time to grieve and grieve in your own unique way
  • Admit your feelings and allow yourself to cry
  • Beware of firsts, which can cause immense hurt: 1st birthday alone, 1st Christmas without the loved one, 1st anniversary of the death
  • Talk to your friends and/or relatives about your feelings
  • Look after yourself – eat balanced meals, get some exercise, pay attention to your appearance and get enough sleep because it is tempting to neglect oneself physically
  • Try to keep order in your surroundings – make a list of tasks that you have to perform every day, if you battle to focus on your studies get some practical help, like joining a study group
  • Strengthen your bonds of friendship and allow friends and family to assist you in your grieving
  • If you cannot talk to friends or family about your loss you might find it helpful to talk to a professional that will allow you to vent your feelings and talk about your experience
  • Write a letter to the person you lost, where you tell them the things that you still would have wanted to say, things that you still would have wanted to know from them
  • Consider a small ceremony in which you have a ritual of remembrance for the loved one – let go of a balloon or a lantern in their memory. Or where you do something that reminds you of that person, and the time you spend together


Videos to watch:

Interview with Alex - Grief & Bereavement:

Katherine Jenkins | Grief Encounter:


Click here to download powerpoint content. 



Grohol, J. (2019). Bereavement Symptoms. Retrieved from

Witz, R. (2015). When the angel of death knocks on your door. Parow Industria.

Compiled by Petro Boshoff (Social Worker@Thuso1777, Potchefstroom Campus)

Updated June 2020