What Type of Person Experiences Profound Grief?

Everyone experiences grief in different ways, yet there are patterns to grief that help us survivors understand and connect to one another. For example, when one loses a life mate, most of us experience the shock of the loss, the pain of separation, the physical reactions, the bewilderment at the wreckage of our lives. Then, as the first year progresses, we have to deal with all the firsts such as the first birthday and first Christmas without, and we have to deal with the anniversaries such as a wedding anniversary and the anniversary of his death. During the second year, we come out of the emotional fog to a greater understanding that he is truly gone and we will have to live the rest of our lives without him. There is generally an excruciating upsurge of grief around eighteen months, which often comes as a shock because while consciously we might not consider that a milestone, apparently our psyches do. By the fourth year, most of us will have found a renewed purpose, a deeper acceptance, or a new appreciation of life. Some of us might even find happiness or new love.

And yet . . . not everyone who loses a mate goes through such a profound or protracted grief process. For some, their religious convictions are so strong that after a few weeks of grief, they skip immediately to the final stage of renewed purpose or appreciation of life. Some people with dependent children or a dependent parent also experience a short period of grief and then find a renewed focus on and commitment to those who need them. Some people seem to be able to slough off their grief and go searching for a new mate within a few months. It could be these people couldn’t stand the loneliness any more and wanted to feel alive again. Or maybe they didn’t feel much grief other than a sense of loss. There are hundreds of thousands of people who are incapable of truly connecting to another human being, who are incapable of feeling deep emotions.

So what type of person experiences such profound grief that it rocks them to the very core of their being? To a certain extent, it has to do with the strength of the commitment to and the connection with another person. Obviously, if a person is in a marriage for money, and their spouse dies leaving them what they want, the person would not feel the same grief as someone who had a deep emotional commitment to their mate.

Profound grief also has to do with how complicated the relationship is and if there were unresolved issues. When you are both alive, your relationship is always in the present day, so you basically just have to deal with what is going on at that time. When one person dies, the relationship is always in the past, and so you have to deal with the whole thing, decades of good and bad, ups and down, connections and disconnections, understandings and misunderstandings. It can be overwhelming.

And profound grief has to do with whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert. Extraverts generally have other people in their lives they can rely on for friendship and support. Introverts, for the most part, don’t have an extended support system. Their mates were their support system, their friend, the one person who understood them. (I’m not saying extroverts don’t experience profound grief, just that they might not experience it in the same way that an introvert might.)

The difference between introverts and extraverts is not so much how shy or outgoing you are, but how your mind works. Introverts prefer the inner world of their own mind. Extroverts prefer the outer world of sociability. Introverts get overwhelmed during social occasions because there is so much information to process. Extroverts get bored with their own minds and need the external stimuli. This could explain why some people can work through grief quicker than others can. The introverts need to process all the permutations of their grief, which could take years, while extroverts might not be aware of (or care about) all the implications of their grief, might not feel any need to process the information beyond what it would take to survive it. A therapist friend wrote me, “We introverts are quieter souls; process differently; miss little in the inner and outer world…more grist for the mill; our friends tend to be introverts…birds of a feather….; Frankly imho I believe we feel more and feel more deeply…”

11 Responses to “What Type of Person Experiences Profound Grief?”

  1. Carol Ann Hoel Says:

    My husband is dying with Alzheimer’s disease. I’ve been his 24-hour caregiver since January of 2008. I cling to this man even though he no longer knows who I am. I’m in no hurry for him to be taken from me. I have nothing to gain by his death, financially or otherwise. I’m an introvert. I hold fast. Yet, when I must let go, I hope that I will. I know I’ll grieve, but I want it to be short, not because he is less to me than that, but because life is short, and I can’t change it when it happens. I’ll weep loudly, and no one will successfully intervene until I’m finished. When my strength is spent, I’ll go on with only short periods of tears at unexpected intervals. At least, this is what happened when I lost my former husband to cancer. I remarried my current husband soon after his death. And, yes, this event did sooth my sorrow. I was blessed to marry the right man. God is good and answers prayer. Now I must let him go, too, regardless of my wishes to the contrary. I know this, and so I pray instead for strength, comfort, and provision.

    My heart goes out to the grieving souls on this earth. Come out of it as soon as you can. Grief hurts. It really hurts bad. It will spoil one’s health and happiness. I know we are all different, and I do not doubt for a moment that some will grieve longer than others for many varying reasons. Yet, I will pray constantly for relief, if it happens to me.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Carol, losing one husband is hard, but two must really be traumatic, especially after dealing with his long term care. I envy you your faith. It will carry you through.

  2. Patty Says:

    My grief was different in the fact that I had a relationship end. I grieved not over the ending of the relationship, it was not a healthy one in any respect, but a grieved over the things that man did to me. For a year after he finally left I was a basket case. Only one person knew I was having a hard time with working through the result of the relationship. I only talked to her when I was capable of doing so. The really hard times, with the uncontrolable crying and total sadness was done all alone….for an entire year. I would have liked to be able to share the worst of it to be able to make it easier on me but by then no one wanted to hear it because the ending of the relationship was a real blessing and no one could understand why I would mourn over it. I was mourning over the loss of ME not him. It was very hard and I ended up with physical problems that also took me a long time to work through. I am sort of on the other side of it now but still there are times when I am hit with great sadness over the whole experience. A loss is still a loss and trying to move on afterwards is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I lost all of my friends except the one I talked to because of the relationship I was in, which turned out also to be a blessing because what kind of person would abandon you in your time of need? I was able to find out the people I was surrounding myself with were not good for me either. Trying to move on from the whole mess has really been hard for me because I have a hard time connecting with new people. But with your blog and others that I have found in this process have greatly helped me.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Patty, all loss is hard, but the loss of oneself has to be among the hardest. You have to start from scratch to rebuild, but first you need a foundation to stand on, and such a foundation is difficult to find.

      I’m sorry you had to go through your grief alone. It does help sometimes to talk about what you are going through, but it also seems as if people do abandon you when you most need them. Maybe grief, for whatever reason, reminds them of how fragile life or happiness is, and they don’t want to face it.
      We live in a society that frowns on any sort of so-called negative emotion, such as grief, and it puts an unbearable burden on the bereft. You seem to have managed to find your way despite this. I hope you will eventually find your way to happiness, or at least back to yourself.

  3. Jessica Lieberman Says:

    My father just passed less than 2 monthsreact is s ago. He was 83 and had been suffering from Alziemer’s disease for the last 4 years. Never having lost someone close to me, and given his age and quality of life, or lack there of, I thought I was prepared for his passing. Much to the contrary, I absolutely fell to pieces and have not yet been able to resume most aspects of my life. I have resigned from my employment and fear my ability to hold a job despite a successful career for the last 20 years. I have isolated myself from friends and feel a disconnect from others that I have never experienced. Needless to say, I, along with family and friends, have begun to wonder why I am struggling to the extent I am. I just saw the movie, Wild, based on the true story of a young woman who turns to drugs and promiscuity following the death of her mother. Thus, her profound grief struck a chord with me and prompted my quest for attempting to gain insight into why some people struggle to such a greater degree with loss. Your explanation between extroverts and introverts was the first time in months that I was able to feel compassion towards myself. I felt as though my dad understood and accepted me in a unique, genuine, and subtle way that was not necessarily shared by other family members and even friends. I knew I was extraordinarily special to him, as I was the only person he continued to recognize by both sight and voice, other than my mother. I am lost and in search of comfort and peace which, which is in conflict with my anxiety and angst.The only way I’ve been able to turn down the volume has been through yoga/meditation and walking along the beach path, despite bone chilling weather, snow, and rain. I found comfort in your explanation and have faith that I will eventually reach the you identified during year four. Thank you for providing your explanation as it has helped me to feel less shame over my profound grief versus the accusations of being overly emotional. I look forward to reading your books, especially “Grief: The Great Yearning.”

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Jessica, please, please don’t feel shame over your grief. I promise you, if you continue on your quest for understanding, you will find a renewed purpose in life. I’ve come to believe that such profound grief is due in part to the closeness of eternity, as if part of us was pulled out of this world with our loved one, and how else can we process such an excruciating experience except by grief. This grief is in addition to the grief we feel for the loss of our lived one, which is why it takes so long. After such a soulquake, it takes years to find our equilibrium again.

  4. Monica Delany Says:

    I lost my adored father nearly 2 years ago. Prior to that my Mother died 2 months earlier, and between my Mothers and Fathers deaths at 91 years of age I lost my brother in law due to a tragic accident, he was 55. My Mother had Alzheimers for the last 2 years of her life and it was a horrific time for everyone, including my Dad.
    I am still crying all the time and miss my parents so very very much. I have had 1 year of counselling but still feel no better. I feel empty, lost, and very lonely even though I have a partner, daughter, and friends.
    What else can I do to end this awful grief that engulfs me? Thank you.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Monica, I really don’t know what to say. If your daughter is grown, then just take the days as they come. Grief has it’s own time, and two years is really not much when it comes to profound grief. Have you tried journaling or writing letters to your parents? Sometimes that helps. If your daughter is still young, then I am out of depth here, so I asked a couple of people for advice. Maybe they have a better suggestion.

    • leesis Says:

      Hi Monica, Pat asked me to drop in so to speak. I’m so sorry you’ve had such a rough time. Pat is right that two years is not much time particularly when you are dealing with 3 deaths and the reality of Alzheimers. I’m sorry to say but I think the key is in your question ” What else can I do to end this awful grief that engulfs me?” The only thing you can do is feel. Grief is not something we can ‘decide’ to be over unfortunately. It is something we must cry at, rage at, struggle with, cry cry cry until ever so slowly we come to terms with our loss and come to terms with the fact we must carry on without them. More it is an incredibly lonely journey so having friends other family etc doesn’t help much.

      Allow yourself to grieve Monica…to cry to scream at the heavens however long it takes and if people around you insist you should be ‘over it’ know that’s not how it works. Grief demands acknowledgement and release. You clearly loved your folks very much and each tear represents that love.

      Having said that if your grief is so disabling that you can’t get out of bed, cant motivate yourself to do anything then that needs a different approach as it indicates a change in your bodies ability to cope. If you would like to talk about this further please let me know here and I can share my email with you. The overwhelming grief will subside though Monica if you ensure you do not run away from how you feel and allow the truth of your emotions.
      kind regards Leesa

  5. D. Aragon Says:

    I suppose it is a testimony to the complicated nature of grief that finds me writing this three and a half years after the death of my wife of thirty-one years. I have learned that navigating this journey called grief is much akin to sailing upon the ocean. One experiences adverse winds which send you tacking this way and that to maintain your course; storms that threaten to capsize these fragile vessels we call our mind and body; periods of fair weather in which we seem to gain much distance on even seas; and the inevitable doldrums, during which life itself seems a pointless venture.

    I have tried hard to maintain a steady course and believe in my heart and soul that this compass heading I now find myself upon is actually leading somewhere besides further loss and inevitable despair. For those who are experiencing grief of any kind you may ask how I do this. Despite experiencing depression and chronic melancholy, and being a stereotypical introvert with a poor social network, I hold onto the fact there are people in my life who rely on me to stay afloat and bring myself safely back to port. I have a new love who lost her spouse as well, after more than three decades of marriage. We help and lean on each other almost daily in surviving grief. I have two adult children who still need a parental influence. And I am slowly waking up to the fact hope is not just another four-letter word that often disappoints.

    My advice to those who find themselves on a sea of grief with no safe port in sight: you’ve come this far, and survived….you are stronger than you think…keep sailing on!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Very good advice, and great analogy. Most of us just keep sailing with no expectation of finding a safe harbor, but something in us keeps us afloat until we find we can hope for hope again.

      People who have never lost a beloved spouse think if you find love again, you automatically lose your grief, but grief has become a part of us. I’m glad you two found each other. You understand that fundamental truth.

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