Why the types of grief can impact your pet loss experience

If you’re new to The Ralph Site, first let us say that we’re so sorry for the loss that has brought you here. We hope you find comfort and support within these pages and from our wider community.

Today’s blog is about the different types of grief and why it can be helpful to recognise them.

Isn’t grief simply grief, you might be asking? How can there be different types? Why does the type of grief matter? Is pet loss grief different from other forms of grief? Is there a right way to grieve?

These are all common questions.

Yes, when all things are said and done, grief is simply grief. It’s a collection of emotions and physical symptoms that we experience when someone or something we care about deeply leaves our life, often forever. Grief, they say, is love that has nowhere to go. It’s the love that’s left behind.

And, no, pet loss grief isn’t different than grief triggered by another loss (although it can present some unique challenges), and there isn’t a right way to grieve. 

However, the different types of grief, as defined by psychologists, can influence your experience, the support you receive, how your grief manifests, how long you remain in the early stages of loss, and more.

Being aware of the type of grief you’re experiencing can help you identify what you might be struggling with or even when you might need the support of a bereavement counsellor.

So, we thought you might find it helpful if we highlight the different grief types with links to resources here on The Ralph Site.

Seventeen types of grief

  1. Abbreviated grief

As the name suggests, abbreviated grief refers to a short-lived period of mourning following a bereavement, after which a person can move forward relatively quickly.

If you’re experiencing abbreviated grief, you may feel shocked at how quickly you’ve been able to fill the void left by your pet. For some people, this can trigger a feeling of guilt or cause them to question their relationship with the loved one they lost.

Abbreviated grief often happens when a person has been through a long period of anticipatory grief (more about this below). It may be that you came to peace with your loss before your pet died, perhaps because they were elderly, terminally ill, or for a plethora of other reasons.

Remember that grief isn’t a competition. It isn’t measured by its length, its depth, how it shows up, or anything else. It’s unique to you.

  1. Absent grief

Absent grief is when the bereaved person doesn’t experience the feelings typically associated with grief.

There can be many reasons for this, such as differing expectations, previous losses, shock, and more.

Experts do warn that grief can appear to be absent if we refuse to acknowledge or continue to deny a loss, and that it might, in fact, be a type of incomplete or complicated grief.

In this scenario, absent grief is about repressing difficult feelings and struggling to meet grief head-on. A total absence of grief can cause people to become stuck or for grief to surface at a much later date. 

On the other hand, grief can be absent due to religious or philosophical beliefs about the afterlife. Equally, if your pet has been suffering, you may feel that death has set them free, which can prompt relief instead of grief.

If you would have expected to feel something about your pet loss but don’t, you may want to speak to an experienced bereavement counsellor to explore this.

  1. Anticipatory grief

We’ve already mentioned anticipatory grief above, and it is a grieving state that affects many pet carers. It describes the grief that you feel before your pet dies because you know you have the loss ahead of you.

Those of us who share our lives with animal companions know that their lives are much shorter and that they’re likely to die before us. Knowing this doesn’t make the end of a pet’s life any easier for their caregiver.

Anticipatory grief can make it hard to live in the moment because your mind occupies the future where the loss has happened. On the flip side, though, anticipatory grief can inspire you to make precious memories and say everything you want to your pet.

People who have been through a long period of anticipatory grief sometimes find that they’re able to accept their loss relatively quickly because they’ve done so much of the emotional processing ahead of time.

  1. Chronic grief

Chronic grief is a form of complicated grief (see below) that is persistent and long-lasting and that may need professional support to address.

Symptoms of chronic grief can include a loss of identity or feeling that a part of oneself has died; a marked sense of disbelief about the death; avoiding reminders about the loss; intense emotional pain related to the death; difficulty with reintegration into everyday life (e.g., struggling to connect with friends, pursue any interests, or plan for the future); emotional numbness; a feeling that life is meaningless; and intense loneliness.

If you’re experiencing chronic grief, these symptoms will last much longer than what is expected based on cultural, social, or religious norms. 

This can be tricky to identify because, as we always say on The Ralph Site, grief doesn’t come with a time limit and, in many ways, lasts forever. With chronic grief, people tend to stay in the early stages of grief, where the loss consumes every moment and part of their being.

  1. Collective grief

This is typically when a loss affects a family, a group, or a community. We often see outpourings of collective grief after a terror attack, a natural disaster, or even when someone in the public eye dies. 

In the case of pet loss, you may need to navigate your way through the collective grief of your friends and family. This can help to create a sense of all being “in it together”. Alternatively, it can sometimes present relationship challenges when everyone is experiencing their grief differently.

  1. Complicated grief

We’ve mentioned complicated grief above. It’s a phrase generally used to describe grief that deviates from what psychologists would see as “the norm” or “typical” when someone suffers a loss. 

Complicated grief can include chronic grief, absent grief, or delayed grief. It can leave the mourner feeling frozen in the moment of loss, unable to connect with the loss at all, or unable to function for a prolonged period due to the loss overshadowing everything else.

  1. Cumulative grief

If you’ve experienced other bereavements in the past, you may find that your recent pet loss has brought those other losses to the surface, too. 

Cumulative grief is often a factor if you’ve experienced multiple losses within a short time period as you may not have had a chance to process your feelings about one loss before being faced with another.

  1. Delayed grief

As the name suggests, delayed grief can take its time to show up. This often happens if you have other things to deal with, such as a significant life event, which means you must put your feelings on hold to cope.

People experiencing delayed grief may look as though they’re reacting disproportionately to their current situation because others fail to recognise that they are finally feeling the loss they suffered at any earlier time.

  1. Distorted grief

Distorted grief tends to be characterised by overwhelming anger that the bereaved person desperately needs to direct somewhere, be it at another person or people, the world at large, or even at themselves.

If you’re experiencing distorted grief, you may feel permanently angry, show hostility towards others, use self-harming behaviours, or seek conflict. It is important to seek support.

  1. Disenfranchised grief

Disenfranchised grief happens when the bereaved person feels that their pain and loss aren’t recognised by our wider society. 

Pet loss sometimes falls in this category because people don’t understand the depth of feeling or, having not experienced it themselves, diminish the loss by suggesting, for example, that an animal companion can be replaced.

Bereavements such as a miscarriage, the death of an ex-partner, or the loss of a much-loved colleague often fall in this category, too.

We talk a lot about disenfranchised grief here on The Ralph Site because it can make bereaved pet carers feel unseen or isolated, and it’s vital that we recognise it.

  1. Exaggerated grief

Exaggerated grief is also known as “persistent complex bereavement disorder”. According to Love to Know, it “refers to a group of symptoms that persist in high intensity for at least six months after a loss is experienced and with an individual also experiencing difficulty with acts of daily living and functioning”.

When someone is experiencing exaggerated grief, they’re likely to exhibit noticeable and disruptive behaviours that can include substance abuse, thoughts of self-harm and suicide to return to the loved one, hyper-focus on the deceased individual and the circumstances surrounding their death, prolonged feelings of shock, or extreme and unusual fears.

Depression and PTSD are often associated with a complex bereavement disorder, and it is important to seek professional support.

  1. Incomplete grief

Bereavement experts say that it can take people anywhere from six months to two years to move through the most debilitating aspects of grief. With incomplete grief, the bereaved person’s emotional state gets stuck at some point. This makes it difficult to come to terms with the loss. 

If you find yourself reliving your pet’s final days on a loop or becoming depressed, anxious or hypervigilant, it could be a sign that you need support in order to adjust to life without your loved one.

  1. Inhibited grief

Grief is deeply personal and can be difficult to express. Many of us live in societies that find death hard to talk about, and people are often scared of saying the wrong thing, so they don’t say anything at all.

Inhibited grief can come about when you make a conscious effort to keep your grief private. Instead, you present the outward appearance that everything is fine. This might be because you want to make other people feel comfortable or because you don’t want to worry your friends and family.

However, it’s important to recognise that grief wants to be felt and experienced. There is a risk that hiding grief can repress and prolong it.

  1. Masked grief

Masked grief happens when you try to ignore or suppress your feelings in the hope they’ll go away of their own accord. You may be experiencing masked grief if you’re desperately trying to carry on as if nothing has happened.

The problem is, as we mentioned with inhibited grief above, that a bereavement demands to be felt. All that love you have for your pet is still there, wanting acknowledgement and acceptance. 

If you’re experiencing masked grief, you might notice physical or emotional symptoms that don’t obviously seem connected to your loss. This is because the grief is still there behind the mask as it’s trying to push its way into your reality.

  1. “Normal” or “healthy” grief

We’ve put the words “normal” and “healthy” in speech marks here because we don’t want to imply that there is a correct way to grieve and that if you don’t fall into this grieving type, you’re somehow getting things wrong.

What this phrase means is that grief is the most natural response in the world to losing someone you love. It’s something we’re all destined to experience. The only way to avoid grief is to avoid making emotional attachments with anyone or anything.

And because loss is an inevitable part of the human condition, we’re surprisingly capable of experiencing it, processing it, and eventually finding a way to move forward and find satisfaction in the life that comes after a loved one dies. That doesn’t mean we don’t care or that the love we feel diminishes in anyway; it’s just that we’re hardwired to adapt.

The common and typical symptoms of grief include:

  • Strong feelings of sadness or sorrow
  • An inability to focus and a temporary disconnection from everyday life
  • Consuming thoughts of who or what you’ve lost
  • Feelings of a loss of purpose or intention in life
  • Denial of your loss
  • Sleep disruption
  • Changes to appetite

With “normal” or “healthy” grief, the bereaved person will go on an emotional journey that will enable them to come to terms with their loss eventually. 

Normal grief also enables us to find a way to maintain an emotional connection with a beloved pet after their death.

  1. Secondary loss

Secondary loss is perhaps best seen as a type of cumulative grief. It describes the kind of grief that happens when the initial loss triggers other losses, too. Dog guardians, for example, may find that they lose the routines or parts of their social life that revolve around their dog, as well as grieving for the dog themselves. 

Losing a much-loved animal companion can also trigger a loss of identity. Again, this is a secondary loss that only adds to the pain of the original bereavement.

  1. Traumatic grief

As the name suggests, traumatic grief is the result of trying to process losing a loved one to a horrifying, violent, or sudden death. It can lead to the bereaved person experiencing flashbacks or feeling guilty for surviving or not being able to prevent the loss of life.

If you are experiencing traumatic grief, you may benefit from speaking to a trained bereavement counsellor.


Grief is a universal experience and yet so deeply personal that it can look and feel completely different from one person to another.

You may feel like the types of grief labelled above are irrelevant to your own grief. On the other hand, maybe you find it reassuring to know that there’s a name for what you’re feeling.

As we mentioned in our introduction, it can be helpful to know when you might need support from a trained bereavement counsellor, especially if you’re using harmful coping mechanisms.

Grief is messy, common, and yet exquisitely unique. We want you to know that you’re not alone, whatever your grief.

Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

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