August 22, 2022

What is Grief?

By Treshana Lewis


Grief is a feeling of sorrow or sadness associated with a loss. The emotion of grief at times can be experienced as a strong, overwhelming force of nature. 

The Mayo Clinic describes grief as the following: “a natural reaction to loss experienced both universally and personally. Individual experiences of grief vary and are influenced by the nature of the loss (who the person was to them, when the loss occurred, past and current experiences with loss, coping mechanism/support systems, and their ability to cope). Some examples of loss include the death of a loved one, the ending of an important relationship, job loss, loss through theft or the loss of independence through disability.”

The most unsettling aspect of the grieving process is that we cannot control the process or anticipate the impact of the varying stages of grief we will encounter. Another aspect is the discomfort that comes from the emotional pain and difficult emotions experienced with grief.

Now that we have established an understanding of what grief is, we will spend the remainder of this blog exploring a few different types of grief.

Types of Grief

Normal grief

Contrary to what the name might suggest, there is no “normal” or atypical way to experience grief. That is because the grieving process is not regulated by particular guidelines or rules. There is no set timeline for grief or the grieving process. Normal grief speaks more to one’s ability to navigate the varying stages of grief and move towards acceptance of the loss. Over time one will notice a gradual decrease in the intensity of emotions associated with loss. Those who experience normal grief may experience a slight interruption in their ability to continue to function in their basic daily activities, but are able to reorient themselves after loss. 

Anticipatory grief 

Unlike normal grief, anticipatory grief is very much what it suggests. It is grief that transpires before the actual death or loss. Those that are experiencing anticipatory grief may find themselves experiencing the following;

  • Fear of losing companionship or identity associated with role
  • Intense preoccupation with the loss
  • Fear of losing financial security or dreams about the future
  • Anxiety & Depression
  • Isolation & Withdrawing from social situations

Complicated grief (traumatic or prolonged)

Complicated grief occurs when normal grief becomes severe in longevity and dramatically impairs one’s ability to function. Though it can be difficult to discern when grief has persisted for too long, there are other contributing factors in identifying and diagnosing complicated or prolonged grief. 

When assessing someone for complicated grief, clinicians consider the following: the nature of the loss or death (i.e. was it sudden or violent), the person’s history with grief & loss, the individual’s relationship/attachment to the loss, personality, life experiences, and social or cultural issues/factors. There are some warning signs when it comes to complicated/ traumatic grief. They include suicidal thoughts, persistent and intense guilt self-destructive behavior, violent outbursts, dramatic lifestyle changes, and low self-esteem.

Disenfranchised grief (ambiguous)

Disenfranchised grief occurs when someone is experiencing a loss that others do not recognize the significance or understand the importance of the loss in a person’s life. Individuals that experience disenfranchised grief may feel others or the outside world is minimizing or dismissing their loss. Disenfranchised grief can occur in the following circumstances: post-abortion or perinatal loss, loss of an ex-spouse, a pet, or a co-worker.

Support for Grief

If after reading this article you are recognizing that you are in a state of grief and loss, know that it is never to be experienced alone. Processing and navigating grief can be difficult, but if done in the safety of a healthy community the process can be less overwhelming. To talk to someone about how to cope with grief and loss, give us a call today to schedule an appointment.

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