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Understanding the Types of Grief and Navigating Your Unique Path to Healing

Grief is difficult and multifaceted. It impacts individuals in various ways depending on their circumstances. Uncomplicated or simple grief is the most common type after the death of a loved one. Emotions may be intense and run the gamut from sadness, anger, guilt, confusion, and even relief. This type of grief resolves over time as the person adjusts to the loss. For the most part, we know that deaths happen. We are able to wrap our minds around them even as hurtful as those losses are.

Another type of grief one may have to come to terms with is anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief can lead to changing emotions as we try to deal with impending loss. Anticipatory grief allows a person to begin grieving before the loss is suffered. This happens in cases where a loved one is placed on hospice or is dealing with a terminal illness. Emotions will include sadness, along with heightened anxiety, and increased worry. A person may also experience fear over the impact the loss will have. Relief is also common once the suffering ends. According to Martha Jo Atkins in her book “Sign Posts of Dying,” when someone we love is dying, we search for meaning to make sense of what is happening. Anticipatory grief provides an opportunity for individuals to prepare for the loss. A person may begin making arrangements and having meaningful conversations with loved ones.

Complicated grief, complex grief, prolonged grief, or unresolved grief are interchangeable terms. Complicated grief involves an intense grieving process that does not diminish over time. Complicated grief is accompanied by persistent feelings of sadness. The person has difficulty accepting the loss. In my opinion, the hardest death to move forward from is that of a parent, child, or spouse. Complicated grief may need professional support to navigate. Feeling empty, yearning, and struggling to accept the loss is common with prolonged grief. Complicated grief can interfere with daily functioning. Relationships, work, and the quality of life are affected.

Disenfranchised grief happens when someone has a loss that others do not recognize as significant. The individual may feel a lack of validation and support. This kind of grief is personal. Some examples are the loss of a pet, the end of a relationship, or the death of someone with a stigmatized lifestyle. People who experience disenfranchised grief may face unique challenges in the grief process. The individual faces unique challenges in their grieving process. Imagine a child who learns of the passing of a parent they were not allowed to have a relationship. They are not expected to attend the funeral, which is a ritual that helps ease the healing. When others cannot openly grieve, it may lead to hidden pain and the need to suppress emotions. These people may have conflicting feelings and feel guilt for grieving a loss others don’t see as important.

Collective or public grief is the shared experience of loss. This may be in a community, society, or even globally. It can occur when events like a natural disaster, mass tragedy, or the death of a public figure occur. In 2020 we shared the collective experience that shut down the world. The Covid 19 pandemic claimed lives worldwide. Collective grief involves shared sorrow, mourning rituals, and the need for community support. Others going through the same grief may find support in each other. Members of the community may take part in vigils or even protests as a way of helping to heal. Collective grief can challenge people’s sense of security, beliefs, and perceptions. Collective grief can lead to long-lasting social and psychological effects.

Secondary or vicarious grief occurs when someone is supporting a grieving person, such as a close friend or therapist. Vicarious grief is often felt by healthcare workers like first responders or those who witness traumatic events indirectly. Supporting someone through grief can result in emotional exhaustion and compassion fatigue. A person might feel a variety of emotions like those in regular grief episodes. For this reason, healthcare providers should beware of burnout and decreased well-being. Secondary grief can also help us grow, gain empathy, and gain a deeper understanding of life.

It is important to recognize that the impact of grief is very individualized. Everyone responds differently due to their personality, coping skills, support, and other factors. Help from loved ones or mental health experts can help manage the impact of the various types of grief.

I wish I could tell you that I knew some deep secret to the art of grieving, that there was some mystical way of waking one day and being completely over your loss. The secret is, there is no secret. Loss can come in many forms and can strike at any time. While we will all face the agony of loss at some point(s) in life, the fact is that it can be the hardest thing we will ever deal with. My name is Jacinta Wills. I became a Grief Specialist because I understand the need to deal with the difficult emotions of loss. I lost a job that I loved doing in 2010. In 2013 my mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. In 2015 my grandmother passed away. 4 days later we lost my mom. In 2017 I separated from my husband of 30 years. I am sharing my personal journey with grief so that you understand that when I tell you I know what grief looks like and have experienced so many aspects of what grief is that I do not take it lightly. The single most important thing you need to realize in this moment of your grief journey is this. However difficult it is, you are in the process of healing, right now. In my group, we will tackle some tough topics. You will be able to share experiences about your loss, receive and give support to others who are grieving, and work through some of the emotions that cause you distress. We will have conversations that are sometimes structured and sometimes free-flowing. You will be encouraged to feel your anger, shame, guilt, love, despair, and hopefully some humor along the way.

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