Languages of Grief: a model for understanding the expressions of the bereaved

Health Psychol Behav Med. 2014 Jan 1;2(1):132-143. doi: 10.1080/21642850.2013.879041. Epub 2014 Jan 22.


The aim of this work is to provide an overview of the key features of the expressions of grief. Grief is a response to loss or anticipated loss. Although universal, its oral and nonverbal expression varies across cultures and individuals. Loss is produced by an event perceived to be negative to varying degrees by the individuals involved and has the potential to trigger long-term changes in a person's cognitions and relationships. The languages used by the bereaved to express grief differ from the language used by professionals, creating dissonance between the two. Data were obtained from English language Medline and CINAHL databases, from professional and personal experiences, interviews with experts, and exploration of cemetery memorials. Blog websites and social networks provided additional materials for further refinement of the model. Content analysis of the materials and agreement by the authors as to the themes resulted in the development of the model. To bridge the gap between professional language and that used by the bereaved, a Languages of Grief model was developed consisting of four Modes of Expression, four Types of Language, plus three Contingent Factors. The Languages of Grief provides a framework for comprehending the grief of the individual, contributing to clinical understanding, and fruitful exploration by professionals in better understanding the use of languages by the bereaved. Attention to the Modes of Expression, Types of Language, and Contingent Factors provides the professional with a richer understanding of the grieving individual, a step in providing appropriate support to the bereaved. The Languages of Grief provides a framework for application to discrete occurrences with the goal of understanding grief from the perspective of the bereaved.

Keywords: bereavement; communication; grief; language; professional.