Grief and mourning are natural parts of healing after the loss of a loved one or friend. While grief and mourning relate to each other, they can each have a distinct impact.

Loss is a difficult and painful reality. Unfortunately, most people experience the loss of someone they love at some point in their life. People react differently to loss, and the effects might come and go or last for months or years. 

Grief and mourning are common terms to describe feelings and behaviors following a loss. Although sometimes used interchangeably, grief and mourning represent different parts of loss. While grief represents the thoughts and feelings experienced following a loss, mourning includes outward expressions or signs of grieving. Knowing the differences between grief vs. mourning can help you understand the different aspects of coping with loss. 

Grief: Internal Emotions

Grief is a common and normal psychological response following a death or loss. The definition or meaning of grief includes psychological and physiological symptoms in response to bereavement, that can change over time.

Grief includes an acute phase, which happens shortly after a loss is experienced. Symptoms of acute grief can include: 

  • Sadness
  • Longing to be with the person who was lost
  • Thoughts and memories of the person
  • Anxiety
  • Anger

These feelings and thoughts are a normal reaction to losing someone. Although they share similar symptoms, grief is different from depression and doesn’t require a clinical diagnosis. Grief can mean different things for different people and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Over time, grief typically decreases and may become more of a background, rather than a dominant, feeling. 

If feelings of grief do not lessen or become more manageable over time, this may be a sign of complicated grief. Complicated grief doesn’t follow the usual pattern of grief decreasing over time, and can mean that there are disruptions to the healing process. This can prevent a person from moving on or returning to their usual functioning and can cause lasting sadness and distress.

Related Topic: Complicated grief treatment

Mourning: External Expression of Loss

While grief refers to the internal experiences of loss, mourning is best defined as acts or outward expressions of grief. Some common examples of mourning can include preparing for a funeral, wearing black or sharing memories or stories about a loved one. These parts of the mourning process can be impacted by cultural practices or rituals and can give structure to the grieving process.

There is usually no formal guide for mourning, and the process can vary from person to person and can depend on the type of loss experienced. Losing someone can be considered a threat or risk of harm to the brain, so the process of mourning can help people to accept and emotionally process death or loss. The process of mourning allows people to form long-term memories of a loved one, and includes adapting and learning new ways to carry on without a person they cared deeply about.

Mourning can be a lengthy and painful process, but it is a healthy part of bereavement. Mourning can help people preserve the memory of loved ones and feel hopeful about living a happy and fulfilling life without them. Although mourning can be painful, the mourning process allows people to re-engage with their daily life and to feel joy and happiness again.

Recognizing the Difference Between Grief and Mourning

Grief and mourning are closely related to each other and can go hand in hand following the loss or death of a loved one. The difference between grief and mourning are the internal vs. external nature of the processes. 

Grief relates to the thoughts and feelings that accompany a loss; from sadness to anger to longing to be with the person. On the other hand, mourning is how feelings of grief are shown to the public. They are acts or behaviors that show the sadness or hurt that someone is experiencing after losing someone they love. 

Grief and mourning represent different but complementary parts of the healing process. Both grief and mourning can be intense and painful shortly following a loss but can decrease over time as healing and acceptance develop.

Coping With Loss

Coping with loss can be a difficult and painful process. There are aspects of the grieving and mourning process that can help a person move beyond loss and live a happy and fulfilling life.

Because loss can be extremely painful and emotional, some people may be inclined to avoid or deny a loss in order to protect themselves from difficult thoughts and feelings. Avoiding the grieving process can prevent a person from processing death or loss in a healthy way, and can extend or halt the grieving process. Although difficult, addressing and processing a loss can help reduce grief over time. Grieving can help people honor the memory of a loved one, but also allow them to feel joyful and connected again. 

Learning to cope with loss is an important emotional process and can help with overcoming grief. Healthy coping can include sharing memories of a loved one, self-reflection, talking with close companions, or focusing on positive emotions and aspects of the lost relationship.

Sometimes coping with loss can feel like too much to handle. If you or someone you care about is experiencing a substance use disorder related to the grief or mourning process, contact The Recovery Village today to discuss treatment options.

If you’re looking for other ways to help you navigate your way through grief and mourning, the Nobu app can help. It is free and for anyone that is looking to reduce anxiety, work through depression, build self-esteem, get aftercare following treatment, attend teletherapy sessions and so much more. Download the Nobu app today!

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Editor – Renee Deveney
As a contributor for Advanced Recovery Systems, Renee Deveney is passionate about helping people struggling with substance use disorder. With a family history of addiction, Renee is committed to opening up a proactive dialogue about substance use and mental health. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Sarah Dash, PHD
Dr. Sarah Dash is a postdoctoral research fellow based in Toronto. Sarah completed her PhD in Nutritional Psychiatry at the Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University in 2017. Read more

Shear, Katherine M. “Grief and mourning gone awry: pathway an[…]of complicated grief.” Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 2012. Accessed June 14, 2019.

Maddrell, Avril. “Mapping grief. A conceptual framework fo[…]ning and remembrance.” Social & Cultural Geography, October 15th, 2015. Accessed June 14, 2019.

Shear, Katherine M. “Complicated Grief.” The New England Journal of Medicine, January 8, 2015. Accessed June 14, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.