Types of grief
There are a number of different types of grief that can occur in the lead up to, and period that follows, a death.
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Grief is not just something that happens after someone dies. When someone is ill for some time and the death is expected, their family and friends may begin to grieve their death before it happens. This is known as anticipatory or pre-loss grief. It does not make grief after the death any easier or shorter, and the death can still feel like a great shock.
Knowing that someone will die soon may give you the chance to finish a project together or have important conversations. Anticipatory grief may also provide the opportunity to imagine the future without your family member or friend. This doesn’t mean you are a bad or uncaring person. If the person died at peace, having said and done what they wanted to, this may give you a sense of comfort.
If the death was very sudden, or in traumatic circumstances, you may feel that things were left unfinished or unsaid. You may not have been able to be with the person when they died, or things may not have gone as you wished. You may also be managing symptoms of shock and disbelief. Some people are traumatised due to experiences during the illness and death of a significant person.
Trauma leads to challenging physical and emotional symptoms and can complicate grief for affected people.
Grief may be complicated if you have conflicted feelings about the death. This may be because you’ve had difficulties, in the past or in the present, with the person who died. Relationships can often be complex and challenging, while still being caring. If other people didn’t know about or understand your relationship with the person who died, you may feel very alone in your grief.
The person who is dying may experience preparatory grief as they process the fact that their life will end soon.
Preparatory grief means they may grieve the loss of their health, as well as the things they may miss out on, such as an upcoming family wedding or grandchild.
They may have a range of feelings about what is happening to them, including anger. Some may also see it as an opportunity to organise paperwork or prepare keepsakes such as a memory box, letters or a recording ahead of their death.
Podcast: Coping with Grief
A/Prof Lisa Beatty, Associate Professor in Clinical Psychology and Consulting Clinical Psychologist, Flinders University Institute of Mental Health and Wellbeing, SA; Sandra Anderson, Consumer; Dr Alexandra Clinch, Palliative Medicine Specialist and Deputy Director, Palliative Care, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Royal Melbourne Hospital, VIC; Christopher Hall, Chief Executive Officer, Grief Australia; Nathan MacArthur, Specialist Grief Counsellor and Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, Sydney Grief Counselling Services, NSW; Linda Magann, Clinical Nurse Consultant – Palliative Care, St George Hospital, NSW; Palliative Care Australia; Richard Upton, Consumer; Lesley Woods, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA.
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