Grief can take many forms. And for some of us, it can take a while to truly settle in, sometimes even surprising us years later. This is delayed grief – and if it sounds familiar, don’t worry: it’s a natural reaction that many people go through. Here, we’ll talk you through the whys, hows and what-to-dos of delayed grief, to help you through this challenging experience.


What is delayed grief?

Delayed grief is just that: grief that you don’t fully experience until quite a while after your loss. Those who feel a delayed grief reaction often describe it as a devastating sadness that hits them out of the blue. It might arrive a few weeks or months after the funeral, or sometimes even years later.

So, why does this happen? Sometimes, the shock of a loss or a need to work through immediate practical problems leads us to, consciously or not, ‘hold off’ our grief. It then catches up with us later, sometimes triggered by another loss, or even something small and otherwise inconsequential.

Once it arrives, this delayed grief reaction is, in a way, to be welcomed. After all, it grants us the opportunity to work through our feelings and, in time, heal.


What are the symptoms of delayed grief?

If you’re holding off on fully feeling your grief, you might find that it manifests in a different way. Headaches, irritability, aches and pains, anxiousness, mood swings, or feeling numb and apathetic are all typical delayed grief symptoms.

Once the delayed grief finally hits you, it often feels almost exactly like immediate grief – it’s just that it might appear to come out of nowhere. Sadness, anger, guilt, raw hurt: it can be a storm of emotions. For a while, you might find yourself crying a lot. You might also be feeling ‘foggy’, or unable to eat, sleep or cope with your everyday routine. These are all natural reactions to loss.

And yet…

It’s worth bearing in mind that everyone grieves differently. Not everyone cries when they lose someone, for example. What might be a sign of delayed grief in one person might just be another person’s way of dealing with their loss.

If you’re concerned that you might not be coping well, it’s important to reach out for help. Your GP can usually recommend local bereavement support services, as can the charity Cruse Bereavement Care.


What causes delayed grief?

There are a lot of different reasons why someone might experience delayed grief years later. Sometimes, the immediate grief can be too overwhelming to cope with, so you put off coming to terms with your loss until later. Shock and denial can play a big part.

It’s also not unusual for people to set their grief aside as they deal with practical problems, especially if they’re ‘the strong one’ in the family. Making funeral arrangements, sorting out child care and the home, looking after everyone else – if you’re the one who holds the family together, it can be hard to find time to properly grieve.

One of the other factors contributing to delayed grief is if you had something significant to deal with immediately after your loss. A divorce, a big injury, a pregnancy or a major work event: anything that might have kept you from the usual grieving process.


What to do about delayed grief

If you think you might be dealing with delayed grief and you’re not sure what to to, our guide to coping with grief is a good place to start. Experts also recommend that you:

  • Look after your health. When we’re grieving, self-care often flies out the window. Try to eat three healthy meals a day – even if you don’t really feel like it – and get plenty of sleep.
  • Talk to your friends and family. Delayed grief can be isolating, as it can feel as though everyone else you know has already moved on. But that doesn’t mean that it’s too late to talk it through. Reach out to those close to you to let them know you need their support.
  • Make time to think. If you can, try to take some time away from work and family responsibilities to look after yourself and take stock. This might mean taking some time off and arranging some childcare, or just carving out the odd hour or so during the day to meditate or take a long bath.
  • Avoid unhealthy coping strategies. Drinking alcohol might numb the pain for a while, but you’ll feel a lot worse in the long run.
  • Look for local bereavement support. You can ask your GP or Cruse Bereavement Care if they can recommend any support groups or one-on-ones in your area.

We hope these tips will help you. Just remember, there’s no shame in asking for help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and family for support while you take time to heal.


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Have you experienced delayed grief? Do you have any advice for other bereaved people? If you’d like to share your story, send us a message using the comment box below.

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