5 Types of Grief That Are Healthy, Helpful, & Productive

Grief is no fun. We don’t like to be in pain. We don’t like to see others in pain. And, while we know the grief process is necessary, we sometimes wish it would hurry up so we can feel better.

But, what if we reframed it? What if grief, as an inevitable part of life, could be a gift? What if we could recognize several forms of grief that help us heal, honor, and move with our losses, rather than trying to leave them behind?

In that spirit, I want to offer you five healthy, productive types of grief that can help support us in our losses, rather than feeling like grief is working against us. This may just be the helpful framework we’ve been searching for.

5 Healthy, Productive Types of Grief

Anticipatory Grief: This is a hard, but truly helpful type of grief. Anticipatory grief is very much what it sounds like. It’s the kind of grieving you do when you are “anticipating” a loss, such as when someone receives a terminal diagnosis. As painful as it feels to think about “after”, to make the arrangements, to endure the physical decline, it is also a beautiful gift to psychologically move forward with some of the necessary grieving that needs to be processed, one way or another.

Acute Grief: This is what we most commonly think of as “grief.” It’s the emotional pain that occurs simultaneously with loss, sometimes overwhelming us. This is the tears, the grasping for a different reality, almost losing a sense of time and space because our world has changed so dramatically. And, while it may be incredibly difficult to think of one of these concepts in such a time, this type of grief is a gift. Our brains know when something is “too much.” The disconnection we sometimes feel during deep emotional distress is part of the way we cope. Then, we can reengage later, when it is psychologically safer to do so.

Displaced/Deferred Grief: This type of grief is fascinating, and such a smart way our brains handle things sometimes. Displaced grief is when we encounter a loss, but we transfer the grieving to a different situation. Case in point, when I lost my father at sixteen, I grieved. But, the loss was just too intense to grieve completely at that time. Fast forward nine months, to the breakup with my high school boyfriend, and I stuck the grief there. That loss was more “normal” and “developmentally-in-sync” at sixteen. Years later, I could see that I displaced that sadness and cried those tears in another space but grieved both experiences nonetheless.

Delayed Grief: This type of grief can get a bad wrap. People sometimes get criticized for “not dealing” with their sadness if it is not done immediately, and outwardly. Now, if someone is intentionally avoiding their grief, that can be concerning. But, many people experience delayed grief not because they are avoiding it, but because it doesn’t “fit” yet. The loss of a loved one can quickly become an uncommonly busy and complicated time. When you have decisions to make about funerals, obituaries, bills, bank accounts, and who knows what else, sometimes the grieving takes a back seat. No worries, they’ll get to it. They’ve just got a few other things to take care of first.

Sacred/Ritual Grief: This last category may be my “favorite” type of grief, if that’s not too strange of a thing to say. Death happens. Losses are part of life. And, the way people find to honor those losses as life moves forward can be so beautiful. Sacred or ritual grief is the sadness, memories, and/or intensity that resurface at times, sometimes predictably and sometimes unpredictably. It is visiting gravesides, celebrating birthdays, memorial runs, and “talking” to them. It is also the song that catches you off guard, an experience that makes you wish they were there, or the tears falling years later seemingly out of nowhere. It is the sacredness of having loved someone in such a way that they go with you and “rejoin” you from time to time. And, you let them.

Dear readers, thank you for your indulgence in reading through this post on such a difficult topic. Grief has become such a sacred space in my own life, and I hope this can somehow make it a more supported one for you. As hard as it is, it is also certainly a worthwhile endeavor for this integral part of our common human experience.

Photo by Ante Gudelj on Unsplash

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