Eight Types of Grief and Mourning

Contributed by Judy Hansen, MA, LPCC

“Did you know there are flies that lay eggs under your skin?!” my friend exclaimed. I was horrified to learn this truth when I was a kid growing up in Brazil. I had seen tarantulas, spitting frogs, seen hairy multicolored caterpillars, tried to catch geckos by their tails and been bitten by more bugs than I cared to know. But this news really grossed me out. “Really?” I said. “Ewww.”  My friend went on to tell me they had seen this odd growth, gone to the doctor, who lanced the wound and then flies emerged.

I liken the eight types of grief and mourning to those fly eggs that get under the skin. It takes identifying and acknowledging so the wound can heal. I will define each one so you can recognize them, and begin to be free from their effects. (I wish to acknowledge Lois Bushong’s book, “Belonging Everywhere and Nowhere“, 65-66 as the source for some of the following concepts).

1. Abbreviated Grief and Mourning

This grief is real, but it is short lived. It occurs when there is no perceived time to grieve, the loss might be minor, there is no strong attachment to the loss, or it is seen as a gain.

This occurs in many situations. For example, if you were moving from a very small town to a big city, you might view the move as exciting and adventurous. You will no longer be able to eat at the local diner, but you don’t mind exchanging that for the culinary delights you will experience in the big city.

Perhaps where you are going the styles are different, but you don’t care because you didn’t like the local styles that much anyway. Or maybe you won’t be able to buy a certain brand of your favorite ice cream, but you look forward to the new flavors.

Sometimes grief in this situation occurs because the move happened so quickly, there was no time to think about being sad, much less process it. Perhaps guilt creeps in because you think you should feel something, but instead feel nothing.

2. Anticipated Grief and Mourning

Grief of this type is when you know the move is coming and are already dreading the goodbyes. You would rather avoid them altogether, hoping that by pretending the move isn’t really going to happen, dealing with the grief also won’t occur.

Teenagers and young adults often experience this when they hear they are moving to a new school, city or country. It happens when they are nearing graduation from high school or college. Some may miss their favorite coffee shop even before the move.

Sadness creeps in, as well as irritability and anger. It is really tempting to try to shut off all the emotions in order to cope with the stress of upcoming change.

3. Ambiguous Grief and Mourning

Ambiguity in any situation means it is hard to pin down exactly what is bothersome. When it comes to grief and mourning, it means the losses are hard to define and therefore also hard to identify. It could mean never playing in a certain park again, or never going back to the ocean. Perhaps it means going down that street where you played as a child is not possible. Or maybe the store you loved to shop in has been demolished.

Ambiguity makes it hard to fully grieve the loss because it seems so inconsequential and insignificant. But those losses accumulate and you burst into crying jags, temper tantrums or go into emotional shut down.

4. Delayed Grief and Mourning

In a move, delaying grief seems the most logical thing to do. “I don’t have time to be sad or depressed, I’ve got a house to pack!” Perhaps a student learns that a loved one has died, but then protests, “It’s finals and graduation is next week, no time to think about the loss!”

Only later does the grief hit them, and it may be in the middle of the best day they’ve had. All of the sudden, there is an overwhelming desire to cry over the most trivial loss, such as an earring or a button.

5. Exaggerated Grief and Mourning

This type occurs when there is a cumulative effect of losses. Perhaps your dog died, you lost your job, and you had to move to another city, all in a short time. It could also happen when you’ve had a lifetime of losses, unprocessed grief over many years, often due to frequent moves.

Then comes a day when you feel overcome by sadness, grief and mourning. Depression may set in. Crying jags occur. Having difficulty getting simple tasks done, and focus is gone. Anger may be a constant companion, and life seems unfair.

6. Inhibited Grief and Mourning

If the losses are not processed, they will show up as headaches, stomachaches, and unexplained illnesses. Stress is hard on the body, and stuffing the grief, shoving down the pain, only increases the likelihood that it will show up somewhere in the body as a physical ailment.

7. Normal Grief and Mourning

Processing grief is different for everyone, taking anywhere from 3-24 months. Since everyone processes grief differently, each family member may be at a different stage in their grief. Allowing for those differences is an important part of healing. It may also depend on each one’s perception of the loss. For one the loss may feel minor, for another much more tragic.

8. Unresolved Grief and Loss

This occurs when the history of losses has not been processed. It is prevalent among those who moved frequently as children and then as adults they feel the cumulative effect of those continuous changes. Difficulties forming lasting relationships, feelings of rootlessness, underlying anger and resentment may be evident in their lives.

What To Do About It

We all process things differently. Some are verbal processors, talking about the issue until the subject is exhausted. Others like to write in their journals, some like to express themselves through some art form. I suggest picking a particular time in your life you believe has not been processed and use one of the above ways and begin to express it.

Processing grief and mourning should not be done in isolation. We need each others’ love, care, attention and compassion to help us heal. However you process, be sure you share it with someone who cares about you.

If you find that your grief remains firmly lodged within you, you may need to seek the help of a therapist. Don’t hesitate to contact me, I can help. 720-201-5030.

[Note: This piece has been re-posted from Power For Living with permission from the author. Comments are open on the original post.]

Author Judy Hansen, MA, LPCC

Judy Hansen was raised in Brazil and Portugal of American missionary parents. She held a dual nationality, American and Brazilian until the age of 18. She is a mental health therapist located in Denver, CO and enjoys helping all those who are struggling with transitions.