Dr. Gloria Horsley of the Open to Hope Foundation interviews Kathleen Gilbert, an associate professor at Indiana University. How do different family members grieve? According to Gilbert, there’s differential grieving. After a loss, people think their grief doesn’t match their loss. Who you are going into the grief is different than who you are now. There are many contributions, such as developmental stages. Just because a child looks like they should know what’s going on doesn’t mean they do. Children may need to be told time and time again what happened—which is aggravating for a grieving parent.
Another example are teens, just because they’re big doesn’t mean they’re grown. Those with developmental delays have different challenges. It’s possible to regress, especially for children. It’s a natural response to grief as a means of self-defense. Rigidified versions of yourself may emerge. Men and women also grieve differently based on societal training. The relationship with the person who has died also makes a big difference.
Gilbert recalls a 16 year old teen who told her, after a presentation, “Thank you for telling me I’m not weird.” She wasn’t emotional following the death of her father, and others thought that was abnormal. Just because someone grieves differently doesn’t mean something is wrong. If you see differential grieving, simply recognize the normality. It’s okay and often a bump in the road. Being different doesn’t mean someone loved the person who passed more.
It doesn’t make grief more real, however it may be an indicator that another type of support is necessary (or it may not). Keeping an eye on those who are grieving, free of judgment, is the best way to catch any red flags. However, embrace unique ways of grieving.