Tips and resources to help you throughout your caregiving journey

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.




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  • Lost one
    Wed Aug 14 2019, 00:38
    What does it mean when you feel more than one of the types of grieving ?
  • Leonard O.
    Fri Aug 23 2019, 02:27
    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.
    • Verified Elizz Staff
      Fri Aug 23 2019, 15:58
      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.
  • ginger northcutt
    Wed Oct 23 2019, 08:42
    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
  • Carl Banks
    Tue Dec 10 2019, 06:47
    Excellent article, very informative