and Atypical Grief
A recent study of the grief response, published
in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), supported
the experience that I have had in working with people with
grief over the years. The research made three very interesting
First, there is a common and rather consistent pattern
of five stages of grief that occur over approximately six
There isn’t a sharp demarcation between stages - rather
they evolve gradually from one to the other where the next
stage begins to predominate over the preceding one.
finding – much stronger here than in the literature
when I did research for my dissertation on grief in 1980 – is
the importance of “anticipatory grief” in shortening
and easing the work of grief. In cases where death followed
a prolonged illness, especially where the loved one suffered
for an extended period of time, death was easier to accept.
When death comes suddenly, such as an accident or an acute
illness, grief is more difficult to accept and frequently
is more painful and takes longer.
The third significant finding
is that while about 85% of people have a general sense of
after about six months, nearly 15% take longer, sometimes
much longer. The two researchers speculate as to the reasons
this – from the particular nature of the relationship
with the deceased person to individual characteristics of
From 25 years of clinical experience, it is
that when grief is extended, there are many individual reasons
that grief can be difficult to resolve. And when those reasons
are explored and articulated in treatment, my patients and
I have found that the grief process can begin to move forward.
It is important to note that “normal” grief doesn’t
mean that the survivor no longer has feelings about the lost
loved one after six months – only that they become
both less frequent and less powerful.