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What is bereavement?

Bereavement is the experience of losing someone important to us. It's characterised by grief, which is the process and the range of emotions we go through when we experience a loss.

Losing someone important to us can be emotionally devastating – whether it's a partner, family member or friend. Grief can bring up lots of different, complicated emotions, and can sometimes affect our physical health. Our page on experiences of grief describes some common feelings.

Bereavement affects everyone in different ways, and it's possible to experience any range of emotions. You may feel lots of different emotions at the same time, or your feelings may change quickly. Your feelings may also be confusing at times. There's no right or wrong way to feel.

Feelings of grief can also happen because of other types of loss or changes in circumstances. For example:

  • The end of a relationship
  • The loss of a job
  • Moving away to a new location
  • A decline in the physical or mental health of someone you care about
  • Distressing world events

Loss and anxiety

Losing my Nan was like losing my best friend

Are there different types of grief?

Every experience of grief is different. But you may sometimes hear about the following types of grief and loss.

Anticipatory grief

Anticipatory grief is a sense of loss that we feel when we're expecting the death of someone we care about. It can include many of the feelings that we might have after we've lost someone. These include depression, extreme sadness or concern.

It doesn't necessarily replace grief after the loss. Or make it any easier or shorter. But for some of us, it can help us prepare for the loss and for what the future might be like.

This can be a very challenging time. You may struggle with uncertainty or fear for the future. It can also be very traumatic or upsetting to care for a loved one or see them in pain or unwell.

Disenfranchised grief

Disenfranchised grief is a loss where someone feels unable to publicly mourn. This could be because of negative opinions or beliefs (stigma). For example, if your loved one died while committing a serious crime that harmed others.

Or it might be the loss of someone where your relationship is not validated or understood by others. For example, if your family don't know about your partner or don't accept them.

You could also feel disenfranchised grief if others see your loss as trivial or don't understand it. For example, if you were very upset by the death of a celebrity who meant a lot to you.

Secondary loss

When we lose someone important to us, this can lead to us losing other things too. For example, if your household income or living situation are affected. This is sometimes called secondary loss. 

You may lose a sense of purpose, especially if you were caring for someone. Or you may feel like you've lost your support system or your sense of your place in the world.

You may also feel like you've lost your future plans and dreams. For example, if you expected to see a child grow up. Or if you'd made retirement plans with a partner.

Bereavement is tough. All the 'happy times' that have followed Ruth's death are tinged with a deep sadness for me.

Collective grief

Collective grief can happen when a community experiences a loss together. This might be following the death of a public figure. Or a tragedy that affects a local area, nation or community.

These kinds of major events can impact us even if we didn't personally know those who've died. They can bring up many difficult emotions and remind us of other losses in our lives.

Seeing others sad could make us feel sad ourselves. But we might also find comfort in sharing and processing these events as a community.

Read more about collective grief on Cruse Bereavement Support's website.

How long does grief last?

There's no time limit on grief. It varies hugely from person to person. It may depend on the type of relationship you had with the person who died, how close you were and how they died. It could also be affected by previous experiences of loss or grief.

We have information on the different ways of understanding grief and moving forward with grief.

Losing a pet

Pets can provide companionship, emotional support and unconditional love. Losing this can cause great sadness, especially if you have a strong bond with your pet. Or if they're your main companion. It can feel like losing a close family member. 

Not everyone feels the same way about pets or understands how upsetting it can be to lose a pet you love. This might make you feel reluctant or embarrassed to talk about how you're feeling.

But all types of grief are valid. And there are organisations which offer support and advice if you've lost a pet:

  • The Blue Cross has a pet bereavement support service.
  • Cats Protection has information on coping with losing a cat, including a helpline.

Some of the organisations listed on our support and self-care page may also be able to help. There's also a list of bereavement support options available on Cruse's website.

This information was published in December 2023. We will revise it in 2026.

References and bibliography available on request.

If you want to reproduce this content, see our permissions and licensing page.

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