different types of grief v2

This article contains stories from people who have been bereaved and readers who are currently coping with the loss of a loved one may find this distressing. You may wish to read it at a later date, or after speaking with a retailTRUST advisor on 0808 801 0808. They can help you to talk through your feelings, and offer a confidential, listening ear.

Grief isn’t just something that we feel when someone dies

Although most people first think of death when they hear the word grief, many of life’s losses can cause us to move through the five stages of grief.

These can include:

  • Separation or divorce
  • Job loss
  • Estrangement from a close friend or family member
  • The loss of a long-held dream
  • Menopause
  • Children leaving home (‘empty nesting’)
  • A significant or permanent change in our health status
  • Enforced separation from a beloved pet
  • Retirement before it’s desired
  • Fleeing your home country because of war or civil unrest.

Of course, one will recover more quickly from some kinds of loss, such as a redundancy, than they might from the physical death of a loved one. However, it’s certain that each of the five stages will play a role in recovery whatever the cause of the grief.

Different kinds of grief

Bereavement is a universal experience which the majority of us will face at least once in our lifetimes. However, despite its ubiquity, it’s one of the most misunderstood of life’s events. People seem to have an expectation of how it should be experienced, and for how long.

In many cases, we are able to carry on with our day-to-day routines despite our sadness. Acute feelings of grief come in bursts but we work through our feelings over time until the intensity of our feelings gradually lessen as we find our ‘new normal’. However, this isn’t the case for everyone.

Bereavement can be experienced differently depending on the circumstances, so it’s important to understand the types of grief so that we can support ourselves as well as others.

Absent grief

This is when the bereaved shows no discernible signs of grief and acts as if nothing has happened. Absent grief is characterised by complete denial that the death has occurred and is more common in response to a sudden loss rather than one that was expected. However, because the grief is still there, it can’t be supressed forever and will eventually manifest itself in emotional and physical ways.

However, because everyone experiences and shows their grief differently, it’s important to note that just because you can’t tell someone is grieving doesn’t mean that they aren’t.

Anticipatory grief

Anticipatory grief occurs when a death is expected, such as when someone dies from a long-term illness. As soon as it’s understood that someone you love is going to die, you begin to grieve.

Grief which precedes a loss can be confusing. You may feel guilty for experiencing grief reactions about someone who is still alive and feel forced to remain silent about your feelings for fear of coming across as unfeeling.

You may also experience anger at the impending loss, a sense of being out of control emotionally, or despair over the loss of future you’d planned with the dying person. Although this type of grief is different than that experienced after a death, it’s not necessarily easier. One thing anticipatory grief can do however is enable those who love the individual to slowly and gradually prepare for the loss, and in some cases gain some sense of closure and peace before the death.

“We all knew that she was dying, that her illness was terminal. I felt so selfish for wanting her to pass away, but I couldn’t stand seeing her in pain. My sister told me that it’s not awful to wish that someone doesn’t suffer, and that what I was experiencing was very normal. She’s a nurse and said that many people feel the way that I did – once they know that someone is going to die, there’s a part of them that wants it to happen. That’s not awful, it’s human. It helped me to know that I wasn’t alone in wanting my loved one to be free from her suffering.”

Sean speaking about his wife’s death

Chronic grief

In this type of grief, the bereaved person feels as intensely about their loss years later as they did when the death first occurred. Although they may appear superficially able to function at work and at home, the bereaved may be distressed to the point of being unable to see any kind of purpose or future for themselves. An example of when chronic grief may occur is where the death is ‘out of the natural order of things’ such as when a parent survives their child. This is not to say however that all parents who have lost a child experience chronic grief. Other factors are likely to play a part such as the survivor’s life experiences and the quality of their familial and social networks.

“My daughter died when she was 18. That was nearly 30 years ago but it took a long time, and I mean a long time, to feel any purpose again. I went through the motions for years and don’t really remember much of what I did during that time. I was there but I wasn’t, if you know what I mean? I couldn’t see a point to life without her. I spent the first 15 years in limbo because I felt so stuck. That’s a long time to feel so terrible.”

Margot speaking about her daughter’s death

Collective grief

When Princess Diana died in 1997, many people around the world shared a deep sense of shock and loss. For some, her death brought up feelings from previous losses that they hadn’t fully processed. There is something very healing about human beings mourning together, and with the advent of COVID-19, we are again seeing communities come together to grieve multiple losses. Collective grief can bring up difficult emotions for us, and it’s important that we acknowledge these and get support.

Complicated grief

Also referred to as complex grief, complicated grief occurs when the bereaved has unfinished business with the deceased. For example, the deceased and the bereaved had a fractious relationship during life. People experiencing complicated grief can feel very torn between relief that the person has died, and guilt for feeling this way. The realisation that the opportunity to fix what was wrong between them and the deceased has passed can be very painful.

“My father and I had a very difficult relationship. He was close to my older sister, but for some reason, he and I just didn’t gel. My mum left us when I was nine years old, so my only remaining parent was distant which caused me a lot of emotional and relationship problems as I got older. I visited him in the hospital two days before he died – nearly five years after I’d last seen him. It was awkward, to say the least. His death represented the end of the opportunity to have a dad I was close to. That was really hard for me, and it took a lot of work in therapy to help me make sense of it all and move on with my life.”

Heather speaking about her father’s death

Cumulative grief

This kind of grief occurs when we experience multiple losses over time without having had the space to work through each as a separate loss. This might be the case in war where someone loses multiple family members and friends, or where losses have come in clusters, leaving us little time to recover before the next bereavement occurs.

“My nan, my dad, and my close friend all died within two months of each other. I then lost my dog at the end of that year. It got to the point where the phone would ring and I’d dread answering it in case it was bad news. I didn’t know where to start grieving, so I basically just shut down. But at the same time, I would become incredibly anxious if I didn’t hear back from my mum and my sisters immediately after texting them because I expected the worst. It was such an overwhelming time.”

Martha speaking about multiple losses

Delayed grief

Delayed grief is grief postponed. This could be because the bereaved must attend to other people’s immediate needs in the wake of the loss. For example, a parent delaying their grief to care for their children. Or it could be because the people around the bereaved person don’t acknowledge the loss. This may be the case when a child loses a parent or sibling but is discouraged from expressing their feelings by the adults around them.

Delayed does not mean that the grieving work doesn’t need to be done. It’s eventually felt and expressed – sometimes many years after the loss.

“My brother died when he was 17 and I was eight. His death was very sudden and even now, in my thirties, I don’t know exactly what happened although my grandmother once intimated that it was drug-related. He was pretty much erased from that day on and was rarely spoken of again. I got the idea that it wasn’t acceptable to be sad, or even talk about him. I went right back to school the day after he died, and I wasn’t even allowed to go to the funeral. I just sort of ‘moved on’. But of course, I didn’t really get over it – I suffered for a long time without knowing why.”

Kevin speaking about his brother’s death

Disenfranchised grief

In most experiences of grief, the people around us acknowledge our loss. In the case of disenfranchised grief, the loss goes unnoticed or is not taken seriously. This makes for an incredibly isolating experience and can significantly delay healing. Examples of this type of grief include experiences such as a miscarriage, a failed attempt at IVF, the termination of a pregnancy, or the death of a partner of whom friends and family strongly disapproved. It’s also quite common for people who have lost a pet not to feel taken seriously and as if they don’t have a right to express their grief over their beloved animal.

“My partner suffered a miscarriage when she was ten weeks pregnant. I told my manager shortly after and was completely thrown when she said that my partner and I could always try again, that it wasn’t really a baby that early on. I didn’t let on how much that upset me. I didn’t talk about the miscarriage for about ten years because I didn’t think that I had the right to grieve, especially because I was ‘only’ the father. I now know that every loss is painful, and every death has meaning, but for a long time, I felt very alone and unsure.”

Wade speaking about his experience of miscarriage

Traumatic grief

When someone dies traumatically, for example in the case of a homicide, the grief experience can be protracted for a variety of reasons. Unlike delayed grief, the grief starts and stops, renewed after each significant step such as the coroners court hearing, criminal trial or parole of the convicted.

“My sister was murdered over 20 years ago. Apart from the horror of it, my family and I attended the whole trial. We were there every single day, and each day brought on a new wave of anger and despair, confusion and pain. It’s like we had to re-live her death again and again. When [the convicted murderer] was paroled a few years ago, it was like her death happening all over again. My parents raised my sister’s children, and every milestone in their lives brings home the fact that [my sister] is never coming back. It’s like her death is never-ending.”

Anya speaking about her sister’s death

Further resources you might find helpful

Organisations which you might find helpful

For bereaved adults:

Click for more information on Cruse Bereavement Care

A confidential helpline for anyone who has been directly or indirectly affected by bereavement.

One-to-one grief counselling.

Online discussion and support forums for bereaved people.

Support groups.

Publications and downloads on all aspects of grief.

For parents and carers of children and young people who have been bereaved:

Click for more information on the Childhood Bereavement Network

A range of online resources for parents, carers and others who are supporting a child or young person through a bereavement.

Local support group network for any parent or family member wanting to share experiences of helping a child through bereavement.

Click for more information on Winston's Wish

A confidential helpline offering emotional support and advice for any parent, carer, or other adult who is helping a child or young person through a bereavement.

For bereaved children and young people: 

Click for more information on Child Bereavement UK

A confidential helpline offering emotional support for children and young people (up to the age of 25) who have been bereaved.

The helpline is also available for any parent, carer, or other adult who is helping a child or young person through a bereavement.

Click for more information on Hope Again

Cruse Bereavement Care’s service for children and teenagers offers a range of services designed specifically for those who have been bereaved at a young age:

A confidential helpline for any young person who has been bereaved.

Advice and guidance for parents, carers, educators and health professionals.

Referrals for face-to-face counselling via the Cruse Bereavement Care counselling network.

Downloadable information on all aspects of bereavement.

An online discussion forum for young people to share their experiences of loss.

After the death of a sibling (for children, young people and their parents):

Click for more information on Sibling support

A helpline run by siblings for siblings, offering children and young people emotional support after their loss.

Advice and guidance for parents and carers who are supporting a child or young person through a bereavement.

Downloadable information on all aspects of sibling bereavement.

After the death of a child:

Click for more information on the Child Death Helpline

A confidential helpline offering emotional support for anyone who has lost a child of any age including parents, grandparents, extended family members and family friends.

  • The Compassionate Friends tcf.org.uk 0345 123 2304

  • The Compassionate Friends Northern Ireland tcf.org.uk 0288 77 88 016

Click for more information on The Compassionate Friends

A confidential helpline offering emotional support for anyone grieving a child of any age including parents, grandparents, siblings, extended family members and family friends.

Local support groups.

Signposting to other services including face-to-face child bereavement counsellors.

Click for more information on 2 Wish Upon A Star

Emotional and practical support to anyone who has lost a family member under the age of 25.

Structured family bereavement counselling.

Play therapy for young bereaved family members.

After sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS):

Click for more information on the Lullaby Trust

A confidential helpline offering emotional support for anyone who has a lost a child to SIDS.

Local support groups.

Online discussion and support forums for bereaved parents.

Care of next infant programme.

Befriending service.

After a miscarriage or stillbirth: 

  • SANDS – The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity sands.org.uk 0808 164 3332

Click for more information on SANDS

A confidential helpline offering emotional and practical support to parents and other family members who have suffered the loss of a baby through a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Local support groups.

Signposting to local counselling services.

Online discussion forums for bereaved parents.

After a miscarriage:

Click for more information on the Miscarriage Association

A confidential helpline offering emotional and practical support to parents who have suffered the loss of a baby through a miscarriage.

Local support groups.

Signposting to local counselling services.

Online discussion forums for bereaved parents.

After a miscarriage (Scotland): 

Click for more information on Scottish Care and Information on Miscarriage

A confidential helpline offering emotional and practical support to parents and other family members who have suffered the loss of a baby through a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Local support groups.

Signposting to local counselling services.

Future pregnancy support via specialised counselling.

After an ectopic pregnancy: 

Click for more information on The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust

A confidential helpline offering emotional and practical support to anyone who has suffered an ectopic pregnancy, including their partner.

Downloadable guidance on all aspects of ectopic pregnancy.

Online discussion forums.

Individual and group remote support sessions.

 After a suicide:

  • Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS) uksobs.org

Click for more information on SOBS

A confidential helpline offering support to anyone over the age of 18 who has been bereaved by a suicide.

Face-to-face support groups are available in many parts of the country.

Downloadable resources for individuals and those involved in the study of suicide bereavement.

After a homicide or manslaughter:

  • Support After Murder & Manslaughter (SAMM) samm.org.uk 0121 472 2912 (Check website for hours of operation)

Click for more information on SAMM

A confidential helpline for anyone who has lost someone to homicide or manslaughter offering emotional support and advice on the legal aspects of this type of loss.

Online support forum specifically for families who share this kind of loss.

Signposting to relevant services local to you.

Retreats for people who have lost someone in this way.

After the loss of a pet:

Click for more information on Blue Cross Pet Care

A confidential helpline staffed by trained volunteers offering emotional and practical support after the loss of a pet whether through death or enforced separation.

 

* Please note that the names of the bereaved have been changed to protect their privacy.