Types of Grief & Loss

  • Anticipatory mourning describes the process of grieving, adapting, and coping that a person engages in when a loved one is reaching the end of life.
  • Grief may be particularly traumatic following a sudden, unexpected death when a person’s normal coping mechanisms are overtaxed by the tragedy.
  • Complicated grief, which often necessitates the help of a mental health professional, is prolonged, intense grief that interferes with a person’s ability to function over time.

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Anticipatory Mourning

When a person or family is expecting death, it is normal to begin to anticipate how one will react and cope when that person eventually dies. Many family members will try to envision their life without that person and mentally play out possible scenarios, which may include grief reactions and ways they will mourn and adjust after the death.

Anticipatory mourning includes feelings of loss, concern for the dying person, balancing conflicting demands, and preparing for death. Anticipatory mourning is a natural process that enables the family more time to prepare for the reality of the loss. People are often able to complete unfinished “business” with the dying person (for example, saying “good-bye,” “I love you,” or “I forgive you”).

Sudden Loss

Sudden, unexpected loss may exceed the coping abilities of a person, which often results in feelings of being overwhelmed or unable to function. Even though one may be able to acknowledge that loss has occurred, the full impact of the loss may take much longer to fully comprehend than in the case of an expected loss.

Complicated Grief

Grief doesn’t always progress as expected. In some cases, the intensity and duration of grief dramatically interferes with a person’s ability to function. Symptoms of depression and anxiety may be prevalent. Thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and reactions may persist over long periods of time with little change or improvement. Complicated grief doesn’t subside on its own — it’s important to seek help from a qualified professional who can assess the situation and recommend a course of action.

Next Step: You can support a grieving friend or family member in a number of ways.

Content shown was developed through a collaboration between AGIS and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.