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Grief, Bereavement, and Coping With Loss (PDQ®): Supportive care - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Types of Grief Reactions

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Some researchers report that anticipatory grief rarely occurs. They support this observation by noting that the periods of acceptance and recovery usually observed early in the grieving process are rarely found before the patient's actual death, no matter how early the forewarning.[9] In addition, they note that grief implies that there has been a loss; to accept a loved one's death while he or she is still alive can leave the bereaved vulnerable to self-accusation for having partially abandoned the dying patient. Finally, anticipation of loss frequently intensifies attachment to the person.

Although anticipatory grief may be therapeutic for families and other caregivers, there is concern that the dying person may experience too much grief, thus creating social withdrawal and detachment. Research indicates that widows usually remain involved with their dying husbands until the time of death.[13] This suggests that it was dysfunctional for the widows to have begun grieving in advance of their husbands' deaths. The widows could begin to mourn only after the actual death took place.

Normal or Common Grief

In general, normal or common grief reactions are marked by a gradual movement toward an acceptance of the loss and, although daily functioning can be very difficult, managing to continue with basic daily activities. Normal grief usually includes some common emotional reactions that include emotional numbness, shock, disbelief, and/or denial often occurring immediately after the death, particularly if the death is unexpected. Much emotional distress is focused on the anxiety of separation from the loved one, which often results in yearning, searching, preoccupation with the loved one, and frequent intrusive images of death.[2]

Such distress can be accompanied by crying; sighing; having dreams, illusions, and even hallucinations of the deceased; and seeking out things or places associated with the deceased individual. Some bereaved people will experience anger, will protest the reality of the loss, and will have significant periods of sadness, despair, insomnia, anorexia, fatigue, guilt, loss of interest, and disorganization in daily routine.[2]

Many bereaved persons will experience highly intense, time-limited periods (e.g., 20–30 minutes) of distress, variously called grief bursts or pangs. Sometimes these pangs are understandable reactions to reminders of the deceased person, and at other times they seem to occur unexpectedly.[2]

Over time, most bereaved people will experience symptoms less frequently, with briefer duration, or with less intensity. Although there is no clear agreement on any specific time period needed for recovery, most bereaved persons experiencing normal grief will note a lessening of symptoms at anywhere from 6 months through 2 years postloss. Normal or common grief appears to occur in 50% to 85% of persons following a loss, is time-limited, begins soon after a loss, and largely resolves within the first year or two.

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WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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