About Delayed Grief

Part I of our series on Understanding Unresolved Grief

There are no rule books for grief. If only there were! Imagine being handed a checklist of steps to follow so you knew you would be grieving “well”. Of course this is not reality. While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are indicators to know when one is finding a healthy resolution of their grief. So what happens when you are not finding resolution? What does unresolved grief look like? What can you do when you find yourself “stuck” in your grief?

Unresolved Grief can manifest itself in many ways. One of those is called Delayed Grief. For example, if a busy mother with young children loses her husband unexpectedly, she may become so entrenched in keeping up with the normal day-to-day activities of running her household that she never gives any time to her own mourning. Alternatively, the loss might be so overwhelming that her ability to cope is diminished at the time. Both of these scenarios can lead to delayed grief.

Just as its name implies, delayed grief is grief that has been postponed. But can you just take a rain check on your grief? Is it possible to simply reschedule your grief for a time when it is more convenient? The short answer is, “No.” While grief might not happen at the time of the loss, that does not imply that it is a good thing that one is not mourning.

Delayed grief can resurface when another loss occurs. Using our example of the busy mother; if this same family lost their beloved dog in the months (or years) after the husband died, this could very well trigger the wife’s grief that had until now been delayed. When grieving finally does occur, it could display all of the signs of normal, healthy grief. But what has been going on in the interim?

Delayed grief can lead to serious physical and mental health concerns. In the window of time during which the grief is delayed, signs of Inhibited Grief can emerge. We will explore inhibited grief in more detail within the next article of this series “Understanding Unresolved Grief”.

Dr. Therese Rando in How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies writes, “…what makes these forms of grief different from normal grief is that some of the symptoms of normal grief that would ordinarily be present are denied or repressed…” She goes on to explain that there could be an inability to let go of the relationship by avoiding what the reality of the loss entails, or a refusal to express the feelings that the loss brings to the surface.

Check out the other articles in this series: Understanding Unresolved Grief

Part II: The Dangers of Inhibited Grief
Part III: When Grief Seems Extreme