Types of grief and loss
Everyone has an idea of what they expect grief to look or feel like. But, did you know that there are many different types of grief? It’s important to know that everyone grieves in unique ways and it’s okay if your grief is different than those around you. At times you may even be unaware that you are grieving or that you’ve experienced a loss that deserves to be grieved.
Grief is the reaction you have to a loss in your life. This loss can refer to a death but it can also refer to the loss of physical or cognitive abilities or the loss of something that was routine in your life such as a job.
In addition to the emotional expression of grief, grief can be expressed in physical, behavioural, social, and cognitive ways.
Below are descriptions of the various types of grief.
For family caregivers, grieving can start long before the person you are caring for actually passes way. Anticipatory grief often starts when the person you are caring for gets a significant diagnosis and their health begins to deteriorate. Feelings are related to the loss of what was or what you thought life was going to be like. It can be difficult to speak with others about anticipatory grief because the person you care for is still alive and you may have feelings of guilt or confusion as to why you are feeling this kind of grief.
Contrary to what the name might suggest, there really are no set guidelines to define normal grief in terms of timelines or severity of grief. Instead, think of normal grief as any response that resembles what you might predict grief to look like (if that makes any sense!). Many people define normal grief as the ability to move towards acceptance of the loss. With this comes a gradual decrease in the intensity of emotions. Those who experience normal grief are able to continue to function in their basic daily activities.
Delayed grief is when reactions and emotions in response to a death are postponed until a later time. This type of grief may be initiated by another major life event or even something that seems unrelated. Reactions can be excessive to the current situation and the person may not initially realize that delayed grief is the real reason for becoming so emotional.
Complicated grief (traumatic or prolonged)
Complicated grief refers to normal grief that becomes severe in longevity and significantly impairs the ability to function. It can be difficult to judge when grief has lasted too long. Other contributing factors in diagnosing complicated or prolonged grief include looking at the nature of the loss or death (was it sudden? violent? multiple?), the relationship, personality, life experiences, and other social issues. Some warning signs that someone is experiencing traumatic grief include: self-destructive behaviour, deep and persistent feelings of guilt, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, violent outbursts, or radical lifestyle changes.
Disenfranchised grief (ambiguous)
Disenfranchised grief can be felt when someone experiences a loss but others do not acknowledge the importance of the loss in the person’s life. Others may not understand the importance of the loss or they may minimize the significance of the loss. Disenfranchised grief can occur when someone experiences the loss of an ex-spouse, a pet, or a co-worker. The other side of disenfranchised grief is when you experience a loss such as when the person you are caring for has dementia or a decline in their physical abilities. The person is physically present but they are also absent in other significant ways.
This type of grief can be experienced in many ways: through feelings of hopelessness, a sense of disbelief that the loss is real, avoidance of any situation that may remind someone of the loss, or loss of meaning and value in a belief system. At times, people with chronic grief can experience intrusive thoughts. If left untreated, chronic grief can develop into severe clinical depression, suicidal or self-harming thoughts, and even substance abuse.
This type of grief can occur when multiple losses are experienced, often within a short period of time. Cumulative grief can be stressful because you don’t have time to properly grieve one loss before experiencing the next.
Masked grief can be in the form of physical symptoms or other negative behaviours that are out of character. Someone experiencing masked grief is unable to recognize that these symptoms or behaviours are connected to a loss.
Unfortunately, distorted grief can present with extreme feelings of guilt or anger, noticeable changes in behaviour, hostility towards a particular person, plus other self-destructive behaviours.
Exaggerated grief is felt through the intensification of normal grief responses. This intensification has a tendency to worsen as time moves on. This may result in self-destructive behaviour, suicidal thoughts, drug abuse, abnormal fears, nightmares, and even the emergence of underlying psychiatric disorders.
This type of grief is when someone doesn’t outwardly show any typical signs of grief. Often this is done consciously to keep grief private. Problems can arise with inhibited grief through physical manifestations when an individual doesn’t allow themselves to grieve.
Secondary losses in grief
Secondary loss is felt after the primary loss and can affect multiple areas of an individual’s life. The grief from secondary loss is the emotional response to the subsequent losses that occur as a result of a death (the primary loss).
Collective grief is felt by a group. For example, this could be experienced by a community, city, or country as a result of a natural disaster, death of a public figure, or a terrorist attack.
Abbreviated grief is a short-lived response to a loss. This could occur due to someone or something immediately filling the void, the distance that was felt, or the experience of anticipatory grief.
Absent grief is when someone does not acknowledge the loss and shows no signs of grief. This can be the result of complete shock or denial of the death. It can be concerning if someone experiences absent grief for an extended period of time.
It’s important to note that in some instances, just because you can’t see the signs of grief, it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is not grieving.
Speak with a health care professional if you need help coping with a loss.