Types of Grief
Updated: Sep 14, 2021
Grief is a process. It is something that we all experience in different ways, for different reasons, and for different lengths of time. Death is not the only thing that causes us to go through a grieving process; divorce, physical illness or injury, financial loss, retirement, surviving a trauma and many other experiences/changes can lead us to grieve. As humans, we will all likely navigate grief at some point in our lives, and there are a few types of grief that I think are really important to know:
This is a type of grief we may experience with the loss or major change has not yet occurred, but is impending. Oftentimes people experience anticipatory grief when someone they love is terminally ill or they know a major loss/change is imminent. Individuals navigating anticipatory grief may feel preoccupied with thoughts of what life will be like without the person who is ill or after a change takes place. They may feel anxious if the change is out of their control and experience emotions similar to grief after a loss: denial, anger, fear or sadness. Similar to navigating grief after a loss, having strong support and taking care of one’s mental health is equally as important when struggling with anticipatory grief.
This is a type of grief we may experience immediately after a loss or major change has occurred. People dealing with acute grief can experience physical and emotional symptoms: difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, feeling completely consumed by the loss/change, muscle weakness, chest tightness, loneliness, hopelessness, tearfulness, increased isolation, or shortness of breath (among other symptoms). Overall functioning can be impacted while someone is in acute grief, so making sure basic needs are met and they have support is crucial.
This is a type of grief we ideally reach after experiencing acute grief and working through our grief process, which is individual and unique to each person and situation. We know that the grief process is not linear, it comes in waves and involves many different emotions. Yet, when we have personally processed the grief/loss we experienced, we reach a point where it becomes integrated into our lives. Our thoughts, feelings, and memories surrounding the loss/change remain a part of our story and lives, but no longer feel as disabling or dominating.
Complicated or Prolonged Grief:
This is a type of grief we can get stuck in between acute and integrated grief, impacting 10-15% of people who are bereaved. Experiencing complicated grief does not mean that you did anything wrong or should have done anything differently, but it does mean that you would likely benefit from some additional support. People navigating complicated grief continue to experience intense longing, sorrow, anger, rumination, pain, detachment from self and/or hopelessness over 6 months after a loss. Without treatment, prolonged grief can continue for an indefinite period, however grief and trauma therapy approaches have both been effective in helping individuals towards integrated grief.
Everything about the grief process is individual. Although we may experience all of the stages of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ Grief Cycle -denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance- they will likely occur out of order, involve numbness/disconnect at times, and be mixed in with other emotions/factors. Grief is a process we will all likely work through and I want you to know this:
There is no “right way” to grieve.
There is no “wrong way” to grieve.
There is no set timeline.
There is support for you, when you are ready.