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.

Anticipatory 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.

Normal 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

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.

Chronic grief

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.

Cumulative grief

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

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.

Distorted grief

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

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.

Inhibited grief

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

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

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

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.




42 thoughts on “Types of grief and loss

  1. What does it mean when you feel more than one of the types of grieving ?

  2. Mum died five months ago and my grief is so intense. Mum and I lived together and we were together most of my life especially the last 35 years. I was her travel companion, and ultimately her caregiver. Every day I miss her more. Despite medications for and grief counselling I do not feel at times that there is any progress. I spend each day at times crying. There are the odd good day. The time spent outdoors or busy are the best but as the day wears on my feelings of grief intensify. Will this get better in time or is this what my life will continue to be like.

    • Dear Leonard,

      It is not surprising that your grief is so intense. It sounds like your relationship with your Mum was intense, so the grieving matches this! In the grand scheme of grieving and timing, 5 months is not very long really. It can take a year or more before the intense grief symptoms begin to resolve. What is important to hold on to is the fact that you have, as you put it, “the odd good day”. This is in fact a good sign Leonard. And you have wisely noticed what helps- being busy or spending time outdoors. I encourage you to do more of both -that is, keep busy and spend as much time as possible outdoors.

      There is little doubt that your life has changed and you will never be the same as you were before you Mum died. These relationships and the loss of them, transform us. That does not mean, however, that daily life will not get better or that you will continue to experience life and grieving as intensely as you currently are. It will get better.

      You may find this other article on elizz helpful and somewhat consoling:

      It sounds to me like both you and your Mum were fortunate to have such a close relationship. Please take good care.

  3. i am glad to see my happiness peers are turning some attention towards this course, this singular experience, this overflow of feelings. i saw this course and was surprised that no one had signed up…well, 99+ posts later will energize my soul and let me share my story.
    i have five wonderful, big-hearted, open minded, beautiful-inside-and-out, curious, and laughing children ( two older girls and three boys). seven years ago my 21 year old, BENJAMIN, gave me and the rest of the family a terrible and unbearable new reality – he was found hanging from the rafters of a familiar pavillion on the missouri river. three years ago my oldest son, RUBEN, 26 at the time, also committed suicide. (breathe…). i won’t tell how he went about this horrific act, but b4 the deed was done he started a fire in his rented room. they both had infant daughters.
    these last seven years i have travelled, often blinded by tears and pain and hopelessness, down a wretched, broken road. chaos, guilt, pain, darkness – even disbelief at times – have been my constant companions. it has only been this year, 2019, that i have moved away from the daily depression, from the tears that covered my face every hour, from the act of pulling away from my people, isolating myself from the world.
    that is enuf for now. that was the beginning. i imagine this course as a place to share our tragedy and sadness in a safe and supporting environment; i also hope this course – with the stories and discussion from/with other grieving humans, resource materials, our observations on the road we journey on and just the consistent turning of the wheel – will present me with exercises, questions, new friends with this similar experience of grief, and knowledge that will make this road a little easier, a little brighter.
    i am looking forward to meeting you thru our course activity. sending you blessings of peace and – if possible – at least some degree of acceptance. PEACE – ginger

  4. What about the grief we are experiencing with the loss of life as normal during the pandemic? What type of grief is it? And how do we cope with it?

  5. My boyfriend of 11 years died 19 years ago. I was newly married when it happen. And I was excited of my new life, country away from where he died. Lately I saw his photo posted on Facebook. Some of our friends made comments on nice times when he was alive. Suddenly I’m reliving those years when we were together. And felt sad and guilty because I knew that he is dying when I left him to marry another man. I realized that I really missed him. I cried so hard. He died almost 2 decades ago and why I only grieve now ?

    • Grieving is not a tidy affair Gina. Grieving is not about reason or logic, I can sure tell you that. It sounds like seeing his photo on Facebook triggered grieving in you. We grieve when, and how we grieve….just running with it and not suppressing it is important I would say.

      Take good care, Jane

  6. My Ex came back with the help of _________________Robinsonbuckler11@ gmail com…………

  7. I have gone through several forms of grief but some forms of grief are more intense than others. By this I refer to the grief felt by a mother over the loss of a child as opposed to someone older or of a cousin that you may not have been as close. In addition to the types of grief you have listed here, I submit there are levels of grief that one may number in a way that the pain index is used. For example; level 1 may be a person you worked or went to school with but nothing compared to a level 10 where anguish and heartache can become overwhelming.

    • Absolutely Perry. What really matters is the significance, the meaning of the relationship to you, prior to their death. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Can I reprint these quotes on the types of grief.

  9. Thank you. Was the first breakdown of loss that I have found. I recently lost my husband and I can see several of these responses in our 6 grown children. I myself, in several. Though it has been three months I expect him home. He is out of town. I shut myself down to dispose of his things. It is manifesting in physical symptoms. I see my heart doctor tomorrow. PS I forward this link to my children, and some of my grandchildren struggling with his loss.

    • Hi Nickie,

      Thanks for sharing your story. The only way through grief that I know is to ‘grieve it out’. Please do take good care, Jane

  10. So I lost my grandmother I loved her a lot, she made me feel important and now that she’s died I don’t know how I am supposed to react honestly I don’t know if this is some type of grief I am clueless I’m trying my best not to make it all about me !! So I’m telling people my grandmother died I don’t even know if it’s right. I just feel like people should know that an amazing woman left this earth and she should be remembered also because she was a queen. I will miss you and always love you grandma 2021?

    • Hi Ann,

      It sounds like you and your grandmother had a fantastic loving relationship. Her love for you is something you can carry in your heart for the rest of your life! Why not tell people that your grandmother died–she was obviously important to you. Tell the world!! Actually, if you are willing Ann, I would love to share your story on Elizz for our ‘Caring Lives’ series. Let me know if you are willing to have a 10-15 minute conversation about this relationship. I can be contacted at: janevock@sehc.com

      Take good care and thanks so much for sharing.

  11. Absolutely, grief comes from loss, and we experience many losses in life. Thanks for your comment.

  12. I’m a person who doesn’t get upset when people died. I just accepted since their is nothing I can do about the situation at all.

  13. Hi, we lost dad in January this year in January it’s over 6 months now and now in the 7th month mom is showing some concerns in behavior she overworks herself with chores and she doesn’t wanna sleep in her bedroom anymore because she feels my dads presence she prefers the couch the entire night, its been happening for days any advice on this matter?

    • Hi William,

      I think the best you can do is tell your mom that you want to support her and are concerned. She may just need more time. There isn’t a clear cut timeline for grieving, and it isn’t unusual for partners and spouses to find it quite difficult to sleep in the bedroom. You could ask her if she would like to redo the bedroom and make it ‘hers’–perhaps paint it or move the furniture around. At the same time as I write this, it very well may be this is how your mom needs to grieve.

  14. My dear, sweet, wonderful husband of 25 yrs. Frank, died 3 wks. ago from Adv. Stage Metastatic Prostate Cancer and 2 wks. later I had to put our dog Mali down, also filled with Metastatic Cancer! First I have to say, I HATE CANCER! I was my husband’s caregiver for many months. He came home on 04/01/21, chose hospice care, started to get better with therapy, then declined, and died 08/15/21! Mali was such a great girl. I found out 2 months prior she was filled with cancer. I had no idea, I just thought it was age.
    Right now, I know there are so many things that have to be done around the house, because it’s a mess. But I find I just sit in my chair and compile a list! Thankfully I have our cat, Smōk, and other dog, Rhys, to take my mind off things! But they are also grieving, they loved both of them. When will this empty feeling stop? Oh, and my dearest friend in town, also moved
    2 hrs. away! I feel very alone, I’ve never been liked by my husband’s boys or wives. That was made clear the first week I came here with Frank. In fact, they tried to convince him not to marry me! But Frank told them it was none of their business and he deserved to be happy! (sadly his first wife, their mother, died 2 yrs. prior to us meeting each other.
    Anyway, I guess I just want some guidance or a “push” to help me get going. I miss them so much, my heart hurts! Does that make sense? I know I want to get a part-time job, but am afraid to because I just start to cry at any given moment! I want to feel needed and loved again and am worried that I didn’t do enough to help Frank or Mali to prevent their deaths!

    • Hi there Linda,

      This all sounds like ‘normal’ grieving to me. It is also not unusual for people to wonder if they did enough to prevent a death, and the answer is usually that all that could be done, was done. It is perfectly understandable that your ‘heart hurts’. As I read what you wrote, there is a great deal of loss and attendant grief from a few losses here! Please take good care, Jane

  15. I`ve looked at a few websites now and cannot get a term for the following type of grief: loss that has nothing to do with death of a loved one. For example, grief over a love one`s disabilities, such as quadriplegic. Or, grief of a child that is still a prisoner of war and nothing can be done about it, and the situation cannot change. What is that type of grief called? A grief that is on-going because a horrible situation is on-going and with no “fix” in sight?

    • Hi Irene,

      I am not sure if there is a name for this kind of grief. You may want to go on to Reddit and pose this question as I also know many people do experience this kind of grief, or perhaps it is ‘simply’ compassion felt for the human condition….take good care.

  16. I’m in weird place a long time friend past the other day. It hurt and I cried a lil then that was it. I don’t really have anything pressing other then this but I feel like I just moved on. Already I have had a couple heavy deaths early in life and I have never really grieved like that after those. I’m not sure if there a type for that or not. But it feels weird that 5 mins of sad then back to business.

    • There really is no formula or right way or wrong way to grief. The key is self acceptance! Take good care and please don’t pressure yourself to feel something you don’t.

  17. I am 40 years old and have been plagued by grief my whole life. The first was my grandfather in 1998. Unhealthy coping mechanism: washing 10 triazolam with whiskey. My dad died in 2013. We had a complicated relationship. I loved him, but he was a drunk, and could be cruel. I got a lot of verbal abuse from the man from 12 onward. I had even wished him dead. When he died, I could not process it. It hit me in waves, coming and going. The tears burned and scalded, like acid. My worst loss was my grandmother, who I was VERY close to and felt I could talk to her about ANYTHING. She got sick and ended up dying in the hospital 4 months later. I was strung out on opiates at the time, so my grief was attenuated. I am still not over any of them. Now my cat, Baby Cat, died suddenly. Saw her in the morning she was fine, at night, went out of my bedroom to find her laid out dead by the door. I feel like my heart has been replaced by a 2 ton safe, am having chest pains, high blood pressure, feel like I’m gonna have a heart attack. I weaned her from a sickly kitten with eye problems and managed to save her eyesight in one eye and keep her alive. Her littermate died, and we were close. He waited until I got home from work to die. It’s just one loss after another; death, relationships ending, and I’m still on dope for self medication, but that only makes it worse. I am sadder at the death of my cat than any human companion, it’s like she stands in for everybody. I feel so damn guilty, I should have spent more time with them and not taken things for granted. I want to join them honestly. Tried to OD, didn’t work. What stops me is the pain and grief I would leave for my mom, my freinds, and all who remain. All my heroes are dead. I have a combination of unresolved grief and intense physical grief. I don’t know what to do.

    • https://grief.com/. This is the website that has really good grief resources, including free ones. You may also want to consider going to Reddit and joining some grief groups. It sounds/reads like you are a man who feels deeply. I suggest getting further support and not isolating yourself. Please take care. Finally, you many want to discuss this matter with your family doctor if you have one and they may be able to direct you to local resources. Take good care, Jane

  18. When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get several e-mails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove people from that service?

    Appreciate it!

    • I am looking into this Nick. Sorry for the inconvenience.


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