Grief is a journey, and the paths aren’t all the same.
That’s what makes grief so hard to identify and define. It’s an experience that all of us will go through, yet the experience will be different for each of us.
One factor in shaping how we grieve is the type of loss. Grieving a sudden death is different than grieving over someone with a long-term illness.
Let’s take a look at a few scenarios and how they shape our grief.
Loss of Personality
The grief of losing a person we used to know — even if they are still with us — results from some sort of significant change. And that change is typically a result of an illness or injury.
Dementia is one example of this type of grief. When a parent or loved one suffers from dementia, it’s hard to cope with. Their personality and the memories that we’ve shared for years are suddenly altered or lost, and it causes grieving to start long before a death occurs.
With masked grief, people are trying to avoid confronting their grief. This occurs sometimes consciously or unconsciously — but the result is that grief shows up in “masked” habits. A person trying to mask their grief turns to something like alcohol to hide their feelings.
Grieving over a loss that you know is going to happen is usually the result of a long-term illness. Anticipatory grief can be hard to cope with. You begin the mourning process early when the person is still around. Instead of enjoying the time we have left with a loved one, people may feel guilty or feel a sense of anxiety in response to an approaching death.
Sometimes the person we’re mourning is ourselves. This type of grief also is common with people who are terminally ill. We’ve all heard of the five stages of grief, but the model was actually based on Dr. Kübler-Ross’ research with terminally ill patients and how they approached grieving their own deaths.
While some losses can be anticipated, others come quickly. The grieving is vastly different and it can lead to unresolved emotions when processing the loss.
Sudden loss can happen to anyone in our life and there’s a possibility that complicated grief will develop as a result. Complicated grief can severely impact our daily life and has negative effects on our physical health. It can lead to muscle tension, increased blood pressure, and problems with our immune system. Counseling and having a great network of support from friends and family alleviate the risk of complicated grieving.
Sometimes grief doesn’t fully appear at the time of a loss. Delayed grief occurs because a person doesn’t have time to grieve normally. They might be too busy trying to take care of and comfort those around them. Others see delayed grieving as a way to avoid the reality of loss and a put off grieving for as long as possible. But ignoring grief is unhealthy, and will always catch up to us at some point. Some delayed grief can even take years to finally manifest itself.
Is there such a thing as normal grief? While everyone grieves in their own way, experts agree that normal or healthy grief leads to eventual acceptance of a loss and the symptoms of normal grief get better with time. The important thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong way to grieve.