Classifications of Grief

By Tracy Lee
Special to the Sun

Through my years of work as a funeral practitioner and certified grief counselor, I have found that most people suffering loss do not realize that there are various classifications of grief. I have also found that most do not understand the time table and personal commitment that grief requires for recovery.

Before I entered my profession, I would marvel at widows who had survived their spouses by 20 years or more, who were able to continue in life with joy and fulfillment, and who dedicated themselves to the service of others. I used to wonder if there were a magic pill or a magic formula they had happened upon and hoped beyond reason that should I one day become a widow, that I would find their secrets of harmonious survival. I hope that I never have to survive life without my husband by my side for decades on end, but one never knows, and if it happens that I must, I pray that I will dwell in peace until my time without him ends.


Grief is the uncontrollable and natural reaction experienced upon the death of someone to whom a bond or affection has been formed. It affects the survivor physiologically (the body’s functions), emotionally (one’s feelings), spiritually (one’s soul), and psychologically (the health of one’s mind.)


Grief imposes physical symptoms upon the living. Survivors suffer extreme fatigue, nausea, headaches, food aversions, sleep deprivation, dizziness, sun sensitivity, loss of motivation, pain, and severe illness directly related to grief.

Grief increases inflammation. Inflammation exacerbates existing health problems and opens the door for new ones to creep in.

Grief batters the immune system causing vitality depletion and vulnerabilities to infection. It also raises blood pressure and the risk of blood clots. If unchecked, it can usher in strokes.


Sadness is the most common feeling experienced during bereavement. Persons who block sadness with excessive activity find that their sadness surfaces once they are exhausted. Exhaustion renders one less able to overcome the intensity of sadness. Loneliness, fear, worry, etc. wield a significant blow to the emotional stability of a survivor.


Religious beliefs are often called into question at a time of loss. Some find it helpful to speak with a faithful friend or their clergy for added strength during this time. Still, others find it best to rely on quiet faith.


If one’s emotional health continues to falter, one may suffer increasing psychological effects associated with their grief. Helplessness, depression, and loss of hope may lead to mental illness or suicide.

The effects of grief can be severe, and it is paramount that should you witness someone suffering exaggerated grief that you immediately enlist professional assistance for the survivor.



Intense grief is normal following the loss of a loved one.

Grief remains intense during adaptation to the loss and the realization of a new reality of life.

Prolonged intense grief can alter the heart muscle.


Acute grief occurs in the early onset of loss. It often dominates the life of the survivor and robs them of their peace.

Yearning, longing, sorrow, preoccupation of thoughts, bitterness, and vivid memories associated with the deceased are typical feelings that fuel acute grief. Additionally, painful emotions, anxiety, anger, remorse, guilt, and shame are common during acute grief.

Survivors suffering the effects of acute grief usually focus on avoiding thoughts and activities that trigger their pain. They typically focus their energies on thoughts of the deceased. It can be difficult for them to think of anything or anyone else.


Integrated grief is when the survivor has advanced to a place where his/her grief resides in his/her heart but does not dominate or cause an inability to enjoy life. Grief does not, however, disappear.

As a survivor adjusts to his/her new reality of life without the decedent, grief eventually morphs from a living pain to a loving memory.