Everyone has an idea of what they expect grief to look or feel like. But, did you know that in the grieving process people can experience many different types of grief and loss?
It’s important to know that everyone grieves in unique ways, and it’s okay if your grief is different than those around you.
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 even 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), among other examples.
In addition to the emotional response of grieving, the grieving process can be expressed in physical, behavioural, social, and cognitive ways.
If you find yourself having a difficult time coping with a death, reach out to one of our online professional Elizz counsellors. They will be able to help you work through your grief.
Here are some common types of grief you may experience while caregiving.
For caregivers, this grieving process 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. There could be aspects of the person in your care that you already feel are lost such as changes in personality or physical abilities. 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 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! What many people think defines normal grief, is the ability of someone to move towards acceptance of the loss. They should feel a gradual decrease in the intensity of their emotions. It’s also noted that those who experience normal grief are able to continue to function in their basic daily activities.
Delayed grief means exactly that, reactions and emotions in response to a death are postponed until a later time. This type of grief may be set off by another major life event, or even something that seems unrelated. Reactions are typically excessive to the current situation, and you may not initially realize that your 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 your ability to function in the everyday aspects of your life. 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, the 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, guilt, suicidal thoughts, violent outbursts, or radical lifestyle changes.
Disenfranchised grief (ambiguous):
Disenfranchised grief is often 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 in your life, or they may minimize the significance to you. Disenfranchised grief could occur when you lose someone such as an ex-spouse, a pet, coworker, or step-parent, or you experience a miscarriage or still-birth (among many other examples). Others may view the relationship as insignificant, at least in terms of how much you should be grieving. The other side of disenfranchised grief is when you experience a loss such as when the person you provide care for has dementia, or has a decline in their physical abilities.
This type of grief is experienced in many ways; through feelings of hopelessness, a sense of disbelief that the loss is real, avoidance of any situation that may remind you of the loss, or loss of meaning and value in 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 occurs when you experience multiple losses, 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 show up 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 negative symptoms 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.
For someone experiencing exaggerated grief, it is felt through the intensification of normal grief responses. This intensification has a tendency to worsen as time moves on. 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 of the typical signs of grief. Often this is done consciously to keep their grief to themselves. Problems can arise with inhibited grief through physical manifestations when the 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 your 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. This could be experienced by a community, city, or country as a result of a natural disaster, death of a public figure, or terrorist attack (for example).
Abbreviated grief is a short-lived response to a loss. This could occur due to someone or something immediately filling the void, maybe the individual didn’t feel particularly close to the person they lost, or they anticipated the loss and had already begun the grieving process.
Absent grief is when someone seems to not acknowledge the loss and shows no signs of grief. This can be as a result of complete shock or denial of the death. It can become 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 visually see the signs of grief; it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is not grieving.
While interesting, it is also really important for caregivers to learn about the different ways that grief can present itself. You may find that you can relate to some of these types of grief and loss through experiences you’ve had at various times in your life.
See our related Elizz article highlighting end of life emotions caregivers can expect.