Grief is a fickle fiend. And totally unpredictable.
We have all experienced the loss of a loved one at some point or another. Some a long time ago, and some very recent.
There is a difference between mourning and grieving.
Mourning is a time period after death, which is the expression of an experience, involving loss, causing grief, occurring as a result of someone’s death.
Grief is the response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, grief also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, cultural, spiritual and philosophical dimensions.
Then I discovered that grief has many different shapes, and levels.
In the past 8 years I have experienced 3 major deaths, that hit me hard. All 3 deaths was untimely. About 8 years ago, my aunt Stella passed away from stage 4 cancer. She suffered for a long time, her death was anticipated, but her death hit me very hard. I loved her like a mother, she taught me how to quilt, and I still quilt. When I think of her, I just feel a warm, happy sadness, if that makes sense.
I will skip to the 3rd death, my aunt Anita. She died in 2021 from Covid-19. Her death was untimely, and completely preventable. She died within 2 weeks of contracting Covid. She also shared quilting patterns with me, and we shared quilting pictures and stories. When I think of her, I feel sad, because it was unnecessary for her to die, but I have happy memories of her.
Then the worst one. 4-5 years ago now, my 3 year old niece. (My brothers daughter), drowned in a public swimming pool. This little girl was like a daughter to me, and her death nearly crippled me with grief. Her loss, still grieves me till today. There are long periods of time, where I don’t think of her anymore, not forgotten, but put in the memory vault. There are times, when I think of her, and remember all the fun times. And then there are times, when suddenly, unexpectedly, the memory surface, of my brother calling us, to let us know, that she had drowned, and that he is waiting with her, for the undertaker to come and fetch her. And like today, it feels as though I had just received this news, and grief rips my heart out all over again. And all over again, I feel inconsolable. It brings me to my knees.
It made me realize that maybe I have not worked my way through all the stages of grief.
In my studies, as part of the Pastoral Care modules, with regards to counseling and psychology, I learned that there are 5 stages of grief.
Acceptance. (I went through the first 4 in a matter of minutes this morning)
Then there are the different types of grief.
1. Normal Grief
Grief in and of itself is normal. Any time you suffer a loss, it’s the most normal thing in the world to have feelings of grief. There is a huge range of emotions that you may experience during your grieving process. Some of these can be physical, while others may be behavioral, emotional, or social.
Examples of physical reactions to grief:
An actual tightness in your chest
Lack of energy
And many more
Examples of behavioral reactions to grief:
Dreaming of the person you’ve lost
Examples of emotional reactions to grief:
Examples of social reactions to grief:
Being unusually dependent on other people
Withdrawing from friends
Increased substance abuse
Neglecting yourself but caring for others
2. Anticipatory Grief
Anticipatory grief or anticipatory mourning can be common if you’re expecting the loss of someone close to you in the near future. To prepare for the impending loss, you might begin trying to envision life without them. It can be especially common in cases when someone you care for is facing a terminal illness.
During anticipatory grief, you might try to anticipate how you’ll be reacting and mourning once your friend or loved ones passes away. You might feel loss or even incredible fear or emotion for the dying person.
There are some positive sides to anticipatory grief, though. Many people feel like they were able to take the time they needed to say goodbye or to have tough conversations about forgiveness. Even just having the time and space to say “I love you” can be healthy. All of this can help in preparing for when you do begin the grieving process after you experienced a physical loss.
3. Complicated Grief
Complicated grief occurs when your grieving process does not move all the way through the steps of grief. It can be prolonged and much more intense, and it’ll typically have a significant impact on your ability to function. You might feel more depressed and have increased anxiety. With complicated grief, your reactions and behavior will likely extend for very long time periods, with little to no improvement.
Complicated grief typically requires help from a mental health professional. Someone experienced with complicated grief can be beneficial, as complicated grief is one of the more difficult types of grief. It’s very important to understand that complicated grief will not resolve on its own.
4. Chronic Grief
Chronic grief results when extremely intense reactions to loss do not subside. These emotions will last for a very long time and cause you to have incredible distress that continues to intensify. You’ll have difficulty making much, if any, progress in moving through your grief so you can heal.
5. Delayed Grief
Delayed grief can happen if you’re experiencing incredibly stark feelings of sorrow and longing even if the loved one’s death occurred a very long time ago. It can be felt for years after a loss, and it essentially means that your emotional reaction didn’t happen when it should have. This might be due to disassociation, which is common when things are too painful for you to feel. To cope, your mind blocks many of the thoughts, emotions, and feelings associated with the loss until you’re ready to process and deal with them.
6. Distorted Grief
Distorted grief can be defined as a very intense or extreme reaction to a loss. There typically will be a noticeable change in behavior overall, and self-destructive behavior is also common. Anger and lashing out, both towards yourself and others, is one of the most common emotional symptoms of distorted grief.
7. Cumulative Grief
Cumulative grief happens when you experience a second loss shortly after (or while you’re still processing grief from) a first loss. Also known as grief overload or bereavement overload, this can be one of the more difficult forms of grief to recover from. Compounding loss can result in a feeling of “I just can’t do this anymore.” But with the right therapy and guidance, you can move through all types of grief, including cumulative.
8. Exaggerated Grief
Exaggerated grief includes more intense types of reactions than what you’d typically see in any other type of grief. When it’s exaggerated, your emotions and actions may become more noticeable and disruptive. You might experience self-destructive behavior, nightmares, thoughts of suicide or self-harm, drug or other substance abuse, or even abnormal fears. Additionally, sometimes exaggerated grief can result in the development of a psychiatric disorder.
9. Secondary Loss
Secondary loss grief can occur when a loss affects several areas of your life. The end result can be that you actually experience a number of losses, all stemming from the original loss you experienced.
10. Masked Grief
Masked grief can present as physical symptoms or behaviors that tend to impair or hinder normal functioning in life. However, most often, you won’t be able to recognize these things as being the result of a loss or even see that they’re related to it in any way.
11. Disenfranchised Grief (Ambiguous)
Grief can be disenfranchised whenever you feel that your loss isn’t validated by others. This can happen when a culture or society doesn’t recognize your loss. For example, there can be a strong stigma attached to death that results from an overdose or suicide, and your feelings of grief may be discounted.
Alternatively, perhaps the death was someone others think you shouldn’t or wouldn’t grieve for, say of a former spouse or a gang member, or even a same-sex partner. Any time a loss isn’t recognized, or you don’t feel seen or heard in how you’re feeling and grieving, the result may be disenfranchised grief.
Note that disenfranchised grief can also occur in cases when a loss isn’t due to actual death, but rather the result of a traumatic brain injury, substance abuse, or a mental health condition that alters a relationship significantly.
12. Traumatic Grief
Traumatic grief is a common result of trying to process grief when there’s added trauma that comes from a horrifying, unexpected loss or violent death. It can result in an impairment of your daily functioning in life.
13. Collective Grief
Collective grief happens when a tragedy affects an entire community or large group. It’s common during times of war and after major natural disasters that can have long-lasting impacts. Other times we see collective grief can be after the death of a beloved public figure or a terrorist attack, after a mass casualty, or when a national tragedy occurs.
14. Inhibited Grief
Inhibited grief means you aren’t showing any obvious or outward forms of grief. This typically happens for a long period and results in not being able to effectively move through the stages of grief. You’ll likely eventually have physical reactions due to not dealing with your emotions if you’re experiencing inhibited grief.
15. Abbreviated Grief
Abbreviated grief can occur when the person who passes away is replaced after a short time with someone or something new in your life. Generally, this might be the result of being able to quickly accept the original loss. Or, it can be due to the fact that there wasn’t a strong connection or attachment to the person lost.
16. Absent Grief
Absent grief means you aren’t showing any of the typical signs of grief. Perhaps you’re acting as though you haven’t experienced a loss at all. It can happen due to complete shock or total denial, and it’s seen a lot in cases where a loss is sudden or unexpected. While absent grief can be normal, it should be addressed if it continues for an extended period of time.
Looking at the different types of grief, I can identify with Traumatic Grief and Inhibited Grief.
If you are struggling with grief, it is a good idea to speak with someone about, do not try and suppress it, or hide it. It is not good for you. You need to grieve, and you need to work through all 5 stages of grief.
A personal note of my niece: why I am still grieving her. She had a pure heart, who loved with all her heart. She was the one who brought me back to Jesus. This 3 year old girl, would sing Sunday School songs to me, would pretend to read Sunday School stories to me. Forced me to dance silly dances with her, in abandonment. She taught me to “Love” again, after being a very unhappy adult. She got me to smile, to laugh, to forget all my troubles. She told me how much Jesus loved me. And then at a time, when I was just finding my way back to God, she dies. And most people would have been angry at God. And for a moment I was very angry with God. I yelled and screamed and sobbed, “why God, do you send a disciple, who is teaching me about you, then you take her away from me.” But I soon realized, that we are here for one purpose, “to bring others to Christ” and my own experience, that is exactly what she did. She brought me back to God, to find salvation in him. And her task was done, she had completed her mission. And so I continue to take inspiration from her very short life on earth, by continuing Jesus mission, and bringing as many people to God that I can, while I can. And I stopped being angry at God, things happen in life, that we cannot control. And we need to learn from these events in our lives.