What is Delayed Grief?

Grief comes in many forms. Some people experience feelings of profound sadness, anger and guilt for a few months or a couple of years following the death of a loved one, then find they can begin healing and move on. For others, feelings of grief can take longer to settle in, even occurring years later. This is called delayed grief, and it’s quite common.

Delayed grief can cause additional difficulties because by the time you do feel your grief, you may feel your reactions are out of proportion or out of context to the current circumstances. Some people with delayed grief find they struggle to talk to others about it because their loved ones might already be past the most intense stages of their own grief.

What Causes Delayed Grief?

Delayed grief can occur due to a variety of reasons. For example, you may initially repress your reaction to grief only for it to come out later. It can develop if you make too much effort to avoid reminders of the deceased person or the circumstances of their death. While anyone can experience delayed grief, it tends to be more common if you have a history of depression or anxiety.

Sometimes, losing your loved one in a sudden or violent way can also lead to delayed grief due to shock. Grief can also be delayed when you feel you must repress your emotions out of necessity. For example, if you oversee the estate or funeral arrangements or if your loss was immediately followed by another major life event such as the birth of your child or the commencement of a new job.

Symptoms of Delayed Grief

Delayed grief also doesn’t always manifest itself in the same way. If you ignore or repress your grief, it can come out in other ways including:

  • Unexplained headaches
  • Aches and pains
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Apathy
  • Hyper-alertness
  • Addictive/self-harming behaviours

With any significant loss, we tend to make decisions to avoid dealing with such pain and trauma again, whether consciously or not. When grief is incomplete or delayed, this can manifest in changed behaviours, whether that’s an overreaction to certain situations, increased dependence or something else entirely.

What to Do About Delayed Grief

If you suspect that you may be struggling with delayed grief, however small or large, there are several steps you can take:

  • Getting closure – Grief is about processing the various emotions associated with loss such as sadness, anger and guilt. One effective way you can do this is by writing out your thoughts or finding someone you can talk to openly.
  • Acknowledge what you might be avoiding – Sometimes you may be able to help process your delayed grief by doing certain things you may have avoided such as visiting the gravesite of your lost loved one.
  • Change your behaviour patterns. If you have fallen into bad patterns, aim to change them to break out of negative cycles. For example, obsessive behaviour or excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Consider therapy – Dealing with all the issues above can be difficult. Sometimes the best option is to seek bereavement support or consult a therapist, even for a short stint, to discuss your grief and help process your emotions.

While it can be painful emotionally, the natural grieving process helps us heal. If you have delayed your grief, it’s a good idea to help yourself to complete the process.

Personalised Funeral Services in Western Australia

For more information or advice, please contact Hetherington Funerals on (08) 9459 2846, submit an enquiry on our contact page or look at our funeral services here. You can also contact Connections Counselling on 0499 042 551  if you need to speak with a counsellor.