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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Stop the Presses--The Misuse of the terms Grief & Bereavement

In last couple of days I have noticed the words grief and bereavement used in headlines of stories on the internet that had nothing to do with death.  I understand that with many major losses such as job loss, dissolution of a relationship, or a traumatic event there are similar feelings related to grief symptoms.  However the use of grief and bereavement in these two instances bothered me. 

The first instance was titled, “Church is in Bereavement over Pope.”  In the author’s defense the title was taken from a quote from Auxiliary Bishop Charles Sicicluna who said, “The church is in bereavement, coming to terms with bidding Benedict XVI farewell and waiting for his successor.”  I understand this historical significance of the Pope deciding to step down but I can’t see the choice of the word “bereavement” to explain how people are feeling about this change.  There is no death, no loss, only a change in the head of the church made by the Pope’s own choice.
The second instance was titled “Grief and Organizational Change” and uses the five stages of grief to discuss changes that happen in business and how to deal effectively with them.   This one was particularly disturbing to me.  I then did a Google search on Grief and Organizational Change and found over 175,000 results including a book published in 2009.  I find it interesting that people writing about business would want to use the bereavement comparison when business is so unsympathetic to employees who are bereaved.
The reason for pointing out these two instances is to say that in our culture where grief and bereavement are so misunderstood and sometimes swept under the carpet the use of these terms for other purposes tends to dilute the definition and does a disservice to the people who are suffering through their own grief journey. 

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