During one of our grief support groups the other day, a member shared that the first grief she ever experienced was when her family sold their green VW bus. She was five years old at the time, and when the family left the van at the car lot, she was beside herself with grief. She cried and cried, and her parents didn’t understand why.
From her perspective, it was the only car she knew, and she remembers feeling like they were abandoning a member of their household without giving it a proper goodbye. She’s wanted to buy a green VW ever since. While the group nodded and smiled as she shared, we were also grateful to have a chance to share some of “The Other Types of Grief” we have experienced in our own lives.
Grief Beyond Death: 5 Examples Of Experiences Worth Grieving
In a culture that struggles to honor the significant and painful grief associated with the death loss of a loved one, it can feel like it’s not even “worth it” to mention the other things we grieve for. Or, as is the case for many, we may not even realize that our intense emotions around an experience or memory are actually rooted in grief.
Read 5 Signs You May Need Grief Support, and you might be surprised to learn your body and spirit are asking you for a chance to express grief in a safe and supportive space.
8 Types Of Grief
To be honest, we’d say there are as many types of grief as there are experiences that cause you to grieve. However, to simplify, we’ve broken that endless list into eight major categories.
Ha! This one is a myth. There is no such thing as normal grief because everyone experiences grief differently. Yes, there are commonalities in the “symptoms of grief” (sadness, insomnia, lack of appetite, depression, anger, numbness, overeating, sleeping all day, lack of will to live, etc.), but everyone processes grief in their own way.
For some, working with a group is helpful because you don’t feel so alone. Others prefer to work one-on-one with a grief support expert because their grief is a private experience. What is grieved in a week or two for one may take years for another, depending on what the particular loss means to them.
The only “normal” thing about grief is that we all experience it. Grief is always associated with the loss or surrender of something, and it always needs to be addressed for us to begin a healing process as we learn to move forward in a new way.
Anticipatory grief is the grief you feel when you know a loss is coming or you are experiencing a loss, but the full impact of the loss hasn’t happened yet.
It is very common for anyone who has a terminal diagnosis or who has a loved one with a terminal diagnosis. For example, spouses and children of adults with dementia experience powerful anticipatory grief as they watch their loved one’s memory and life spirit ebb away. You may also experience anticipatory grief as you put a much-loved home on the market or as you make the decision to put down an animal companion.
When people are so deep in their grief that they cannot function in daily life, we say they have complicated grief. Someone experiencing complicated grief may avoid anything and everything that reminds them of their loss and may also cause them to have irrational thoughts. Sometimes, in addition to the support of a licensed grief therapist, individuals experiencing complicated grief need medication such as an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety med to begin processing their grief.
This is one of the most widespread “epidemics” in the grief realm. As we mentioned in the intro, our culture struggles to help each other process grief associated with huge losses.
We live in a “Five Days of Bereavement” society where people often say things like, “It’s been two months, aren’t you over that yet?” to a friend, co-worker, or family member who is still mourning the loss of a loved one. Therefore, imagine what it’s like when you are wracked with grief over the loss of a pet, a divorce, the sale of a home you loved, or the forced sale of a car (as was the case for the little 5-year-old who was deeply saddened at the loss of the family’s VW bus). Talk about lack of meaningful support.
Likewise, disenfranchised grief is experienced when an ancient backyard tree comes crashing down in the storm, when an accident or illness leads to the loss of limb or mobility, or when you acknowledge the dreams you never got to bring to fruition, and so on.
This is the griever who stuffs their grief so deep inside that s/he goes about normal life as if nothing has happened at all. Inhibited grievers are frequently judged by family members or friends because they appear cold or unaffected by their loss. Many workaholics are actually inhibited grievers who learned the art of perpetual busyness to avoid painful emotions.
Over time, inhibited grievers are prone to headaches and migraines, nausea, unidentified anxiety, and digestive ailments. They can become so physically or emotionally exhausted that they get seriously ill, develop cancer or other chronic illnesses, or hit rock-bottom when their inhibited emotions lead to divorce, compromised relationships with children, or a nervous breakdown.
Similar to complicated grief, absent grief is a sage of complete denial. You simply don’t accept that what happened actually happened or that the person who died is actually dead.
People experiencing absent grief are themselves in every other way but can seem absolutely insane (and frustrating!) to those who know them in the moments when the absent griever consistently refuses to acknowledge the death of their spouse or child. They may even pretend the person is still alive. Absent grief can happen to anyone but is most common for those who experienced a sudden and shocking loss.
Exaggerated grief is similar to complicated grief. However, there are no irrational thoughts or seemingly unreasonable behaviors expressed by the griever with exaggerated grief. Instead, someone in the midst of exaggerated grief experiences overwhelming sorrow and cannot rise out of it.
Those who experience exaggerated grief often suffer more than one significant loss in a short amount of time. If they don’t get the support they need, exaggerated grievers are at high risk of becoming chronically depressed.
Like disenfranchised grief, this one can be surprising to family and friends. Delayed grief is common for someone who began the grief journey in the absent or inhibited grief experience. When they “wake up,” or their repressed feelings become impossible to ignore, they experience delayed grief.
All of the emotions they’ve stuffed, ignored, or denied for so long come raring up as if the loss just happened yesterday. Delayed grief is also a common response for those who have experienced a series of losses in a row. Perhaps they were “grieving well” for loss one or two, but then successive deaths or events made it impossible to continue, so they had to go into denial. It can be beneficial for delayed grievers to do something physical to honor the grief they’ve repressed. Examples include planting a tree they can visit or dedicating a stone, bench, or some other memorial that connects them to the one they lost.
Like exaggerated grief, delayed grief is also more common for anyone who has suffered multiple losses in close succession or is in the midst of an immediate life change when a significant loss occurs. For example, if you are in the midst of a divorce when a parent or friend dies, you may have to remain in survival mode to take care of your children and yourself through the divorce, and you aren’t able to grieve until you are more settled and have time to “come back down” into yourself again.
The key to working with the different types of grief is to recognize you are grieving. Once that happens, there are many resources out there for you, from live support groups and therapists to books and online grief support and grief ritual processes.