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Thinking Man

Understanding your grief

Understanding the different types of grief can be helpful.

Grief is a natural emotional response to loss which will affect most of us at some point in our lives.  Despite this, grief is still misunderstood.  


There are many different forms of grief and understanding the difference can be helpful, when you are trying to find a way through the grieving process.  A helpful starting point is to try and acknowledge your grief.  Choosing not to deal with grief can make it much harder to cope and can have a long-lasting negative impact on your well-being.

Below you will find more information and links to resources for some of the more common types of grief.  


If you would like to read more about other forms of grief, you can follow the links below:

Normal Grief


Even though everyone’s experience of grief is highly individual, grief is often referred to as ‘normal’ or ‘typical’ when the intensity of feelings gradually decrease with time and day to day activities can slowly begin to return to normal.   The death of a loved one can evoke intense emotions and a mixture feelings of shock, numbness, pain, anger, guilt, depression, and anxiety.  It is not unusual to have physical feelings, such as breathlessness, memory loss, a lack of concentration and difficulty with sleeping or to sense that you can see or hear the person you have lost. 

Click here for more information about bereavement support

Anticipatory grief (also know as preparatory grief)


Anticipatory grief can occur when you are expecting a loss of someone closely connected to, or if you are caring for someone in the final stages of their life,  perhaps following a terminal diagnosis of cancer or another life limiting conditions such as dementia.

Anticipatory grief describes the feelings of loss that you experience before someone has passed away, either consciously or unconsciously. As with other forms of loss, these feelings will differ from person to person and they will also depend on the nature of the relationship you have had with the person who is dying. We all grieve in different ways and some people may never experience anticipatory grief. 

If you are experiencing anticipatory grief, you may feel as if you have already lost the person you once knew, even though you may still hold on to the hope that they might survive. The effect of medication or a worsening medical condition, which can cause changes of personality can be especially challenging or upsetting for you to deal with.

In addition to dealing with these emotions, urgent practical decisions may need to be taken.  This can be at a time when you are feeling physical exhaustion. It's normal to feel anxious and fearful, when anticipating a very different future without a loved one. Some people may also experience guilt at starting to think beyond the present or uncertainty, wondering how long the dying process will take. 

For some people, however,  anticipatory grief can be a helpful period of adjustment. It may start to prepare for feelings of bereavement after a loss, and gradually start the healing process. In a positive sense it can also serve as a time of preparation for you, your family and friends and the dying person for the final stages of life. In some circumstances you might be able to address difficult relationships and find some closure. Although distressing, this time can also allow you to find out your loved ones final wishes. After the person has died it can be comforting to know that you have had ann opportunity to spend this time with them. 

All the emotions described in grief which people experience after a loss are just as likely to occur with anticipatory grief, including; deep sadness, fear, anger, frustration, hopefulness, desperation, anxiety, insecurity, guilt, shame, love, isolation and depression.  You may also feel physical problems such as difficulty with sleeping, changes in eating patterns, memory problems, and aches and pains, such as headaches, backaches, or neck or chest pain.

Click here for more information about bereavement support


For more information about anticipatory grief:

Ambiguous grief (also known as disenfranchised grief)

Grief can be disenfranchised or ambiguous when you perceive that your loss isn’t recognised by others. 


There are many situations which can lead to ambiguous grief.  Ambiguous grief can occur in cases when someone is missing, presumed dead, but their body has not been found.  It can also occur when a loss isn’t due to actual death. Instead, you feel the loss of the person you knew as a result of a traumatic brain injury, substance abuse, dementia or a mental health condition that alters a relationship significantly.

In some instances, it can feel as though a strong stigma is attached to a death, for example when a death resulted from suicide or drug use.   It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, or what other people may think of your feelings of loss.  Your loss will be real, even when your feelings are not recognised or understood by others.  

Ambiguous grief should be recognised in the same way as any other form of grief. It is important to acknowledge the loss, as it can be a step forward in learning to live alongside your grief. 

Click here for more information about bereavement support

For more information about ambiguous grief:

Traumatic Grief

Traumatic grief occurs when you try to process grief, whilst at the same time trying to deal with the trauma that comes from a horrifying, sudden or violent death.  The natural grieving process can be disrupted as a result of the trauma experienced by the death of a loved one.  This can have a lasting impact on your wellbeing and day to day ability to function.  

Going through a wide range of feelings such; as disbelief, numbness, having haunting images or flashbacks, anger, guilt, pain and fear, is common and can go on for some time. These feelings can be very intense, but for most people will become less over time.


Click here for more information about bereavement support

For more information about traumatic grief

Delayed grief

Delayed grief can happen for a  variety of reasons, either because practical and everyday issues leave no time or space for reflection and mourning, or because other significant life events have taken priority.

In some instances the death may be sudden, perhaps an accident involving more than one person. Alternatively, you might have experienced other earlier, possibly traumatic deaths from years ago which have never been mourned, such as the loss of a child or a miscarriage. Maybe you made a conscious decision to appear to ‘carry on as normal’ while recognising the need to spend time embracing your loss in due course. 

There is no defined timescale for delayed grief and as with other types of grief everyone’s experience is unique to them. It might be a question of days, months or years before surfacing and may not necessarily even be the result a conscious decision on your part. Your emotional resources may be needed at the time for other family members and responsibilities, including new situations arising from the bereavement.


Nevertheless, some of symptoms common to other types of grief may be experienced such as physical problems with sleep or appetite, as well feelings such as sadness or anger.

Unresolved grief is another form of complicated grief where, after a period of time, it has not been impossible to gain closure. Maybe you feel unable to return to some sense of normality, and sadness turns into a feeling of being stuck or longer-term depression.

Click here for more information about bereavement support

For more information about delayed grief:


Complicated Grief

This is when grief seems to be different from what is expected.  Complicated grief can be prolonged and more intense and will usually significantly affect your ability to function in your day to day life. With complicated grief it can seem that there is little improvement over time.


Complicated grief usually requires help from a mental health specialist as it can usually not be resolved on its own. 


Click here for more information about bereavement support


For more information on complicated grief:

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