Woman crying, with her head in her hands

Delayed grief

People experience grief in many different ways. There isn’t a right or wrong time to grieve, and everyone’s process is unique. Delayed grief is a natural response to the loss of a loved one, which many people go through.

What is delayed grief?

Delayed grief, or complicated grief, is the late or prolonged reaction to the loss of a loved one or thing. It is normal for grief to cause pain, extreme emotion and difficulty, but with delayed or complicated grief, these feelings might appear at unexpected times and may cause longer term damage to a person’s mental wellbeing.

What are the symptoms of delayed grief?

After the loss of a loved one, some people do not have an immediate emotional reaction. Instead you might experience a feeling of shock, paralysis or numbness. With delayed grief, it’s common to feel foggy or that your mood is flat for a period of time after the loss.

You might experience a loss of appetite or have trouble sleeping during this time. Whilst going about your daily routine, you might find that you have mood swings or inability to concentrate. Once this period of delayed grief is over, you are likely to feel a wave of mixed emotions. This can come at any time, from any trigger.

When the full force of the grief hits, you might feel sadness, anger, guilt, or depression. These feelings and emotions may come and go at different times, and can vary in strength.

It’s important to remember that everybody grieves in their own way and you are not expected to follow suit. However, if your grief feels prolonged or it’s getting in the way of your life, there are places you can look for support and help.

Source: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/coping-with-bereavement/

What are the causes of delayed grief?

Delayed grief can be caused by a number of things, situational or personal. If the death was sudden or unexpected, shock and denial can cause a delayed reaction to grief and bereavement.

In other cases, the symptoms of grief might be too overwhelming for you to deal with at that time. This could be because you need to sort out practical problems, like planning a funeral, or supporting the rest of the family, before you deal with your own grief. You might also find that you have other life events (pregnancy, new job, work commitments) to handle before you can fully come to terms with your loss.

How can you deal with delayed grief?

If you think you might be experiencing delayed grief, there are some things that you can do that may guide you through the process.

  • Talk to your friends and family to avoid the feeling of isolation and ask for support
  • Look after your physical health: exercise, eat healthily and try to get sleep
  • Allow yourself time to think and process what is going on in your head. Take some time off work and arrange to have some alone time.
  • Meditation can help some people to process their thoughts and feelings. There a number of mindfulness apps and mental wellbeing resources available online
  • Avoid drinking too much alcohol or smoking more than normal - this coping mechanism will only help temporarily
  • Contact a local bereavement support group for advice and support Remember that there is no shame in asking for help with delayed grief. Everybody will experience grief in different ways, so find your own way of healing and take all the time that you need.

What happens when we don't grieve?

Coming to terms with a loss is important in ensuring that you can move on with your life with a healthy body and mind. If you do not grieve properly, you can risk developing long-term mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. Sometimes those that cannot deal with their grief turn to alcohol or other ways to cope to ease the pain, which can impact physical health in the long run. If you would like support in dealing with delayed grief or bereavement, speak to your local Co-op funeral home to see if they have a support group in your area.

Five quotes about grief

Here are five quotes about grief that might offer support to those experiencing it: “I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” ― C.S. Lewis

"The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not 'get over' the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to." — Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

"If there ever comes a day when we can't be together, keep me in your heart, I'll stay there forever." — ‘Winnie the Pooh’, A.A. Milne

"Grit your teeth and let it hurt. Don't deny it, don't be overwhelmed by it. It will not last forever." — Harold Kushner

Online resources for grief and bereavement

We've partnered with Cruse to create useful videos and resources to support those going through a bereavement. If you or someone you know is grieving the loss of a loved one, download our guide for advice on how to provide the best help and support.

Find out more
3 ladies chatting in a garden with a cup of tea.