Is it Denial or Absence Grief? | What to Know About Absent Grief

Last Update on March 17, 2023 : Published on March 18, 2023
Absent-Grief how to deal

“Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart and you’ll never walk alone.”

One of the hardest things to deal with in life has to be the loss of a loved one. Losing a loved one – be it your friend, parent, grandparent, or even pet – is something we can’t quickly come to terms with. Two years ago, I got a call from my mother telling me that my grandfather had passed away. At that moment I didn’t know how to react. I knew I felt a deep sense of loss but it didn’t feel like grief, the one everyone talks about.

So, does this mean that I didn’t grieve my loss? Of course, I did but at that moment, I felt my emotions pause. At least for a time. Was I in denial or was it more than an absence of grief?

There is a lesser-known type of grief called “Absent Grief”. Absent grief is when you are unable to grieve, either because you’re too numb to the less, experiencing dissociation from the event, or just in denial to truly register the loss.

Absent grief often happens when the loss we experience is too sudden or too traumatic. Today, I’ll help you explore what is absent grief, its signs, what causes absent grief, and how to cope with the absence or inability to mourn.

What is Absent Grief?

When we talk about grief, the first that comes to mind is the five stages of grief, closely followed by the signs and symptoms of grief. It is believed that absent grief is a form of complicated grief that is a result of denial or avoidance of loss – the first stage of grief.

Absent grief takes hold of your emotions when you can’t get to the acceptance stage of grief. Absent grief is normal and you need to understand that first; grief is a complicated feeling and looks different for everyone, and second; the stages of grief have no timeline. One may pass through all the stages in weeks or it may even take years, and third; you are not alone in experiencing absent grief.

Let’s take a look at how absent grief looks;

Signs You’re Experiencing Absent Grief

If you suspect absent grief in yourself or a loved one, here are some signs and symptoms you can look for;

  • Absence of typical symptoms of grief
  • Increased irritability
  • Forgetting the loss
  • Being unfeeling or indifferent toward the loss
  • Being in denial

Did you know that grief, being a strong emotion, can also make you feel overwhelmed? It’s normal to experience an emotional sort of numbness following a loss and some people don’t typically show physical or visible signs of grief. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t grieving. However, the absence of grief isn’t the same.

Avoidance or denial is the first (and normal) stage of the grieving process. However, we often forget that avoiding emotions can harm us in the long run.

Here are some examples of absent grief in your daily life;

  • Refusing to talk about the loss with others
  • Refusing to face the loss or accept the loss
  • Staying busy to cope instead of allowing yourself to process the loss

What Causes Absent Grief?

One of the common causes of absent grief could be distance. When you live far away from friends and family, it’s natural to become emotionally distanced from them. So when you hear the news of a loss, you’re unable to grieve because of the emotional distance between you and the person/pet you lost.

Others believe that the cause of absent grief could be anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is a form of grief that occurs before the death or passing of a loved one. It is the grief that you experience when the possibility of death is around the corner but hasn’t happened yet. So, you begin the grieving process even before the loss has occurred. This is common in cases of terminal illnesses or in instances where a loved one is either an elderly parent or grandparent.

Anticipatory grief doesn’t mean that you won’t grieve after the loss of the loved one, but it means that the grief that’ll come won’t be strong as expected because you’ve had time to come to terms with the loss.

The whole grieving process is unpredictable. So even though you might feel numb now, in the coming weeks or months, it might suddenly hit you. It’s also important to remember that it’s OK to feel confused when you experience a loss. Processing grief and all the emotions that come with it can be tough.

Here are some common signs of grief you should know about;

  • Feeling apathetic
  • Feeling sad
  • Wanting to cry
  • Overreacting to small incidents
  • Feeling angry toward the lost loved one
  • Feeling guilty
  • Experiencing insomnia
  • Experiencing fatigue

Coping With Absent Grief

If you are experiencing absent grief or signs of it, then here are some ways you can manage and deal with absent grief;

1. Know That Grief Is Different For Everyone

What grief looks or feels like to me might be very different from how it looks and feels to you. You need to know that grief is different for everyone. It rarely happens the way you expect it to and if others are telling you that you’re not grieving the way you should be, then know that it’s not true.

2. Accept What You’re Feeling

Avoiding the feelings that come with the loss is not the right thing to do. You need to allow yourself to accept and acknowledge the loss and the feelings that accompany it. Avoiding the feelings of grief might not make them go away so, take some time to accept the feelings as they come.

3. Know That It’s OK To Not Grieve

There could be times when the person you lost isn’t someone close to you. Or maybe this person didn’t mean to you as much as they meant to everyone else. And it’s OK. Relationships are hard and if the one you lost wasn’t close to you then you might not feel like mourning them as everyone else is doing. That’s OK too.

4. Seek Grief Counseling

Absent grief might be a sign that you’re not letting yourself overcome the first stage of grief. It could also be a sign of avoiding your emotions or refusing to face the loss. If that’s the case, then it is recommended that you talk to someone about what you’re feeling.

If not a loved one, then reach out to a grief counselor. They can help you make sense of what you’re feeling and if the absent grief you’re experiencing isn’t a sign of something more serious.

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There’s No Right Way To Grieve…

If someone tells you that you’re not grieving the “right way”, know that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Just because you can’t express your grief physically or visibly, doesn’t mean that you’re not experiencing grief. Some types of grief, namely absent grief, can be because of avoidance or denial about the loss.

If you’re experiencing absent grief or any form of complicated grief, then talking to a loved one or a professional grief counselor might help. The right help can help you make sense of what you’re feeling and how you’re grieving.

I hope this article helped you understand what is absent grief and how to manage it. For more, you can write to us at or DM us on social media. You can also share your thoughts about the absence of grief in the comments below.

Take care and be kind to yourself!

Next Read:

Grief in Children: How to Help Your Young One Process Grief

6 Healthy Coping Skills To Help You Process Your Grief

Grief Art Therapy: Can Artistic Expression Help Cope With Grief And Loss?

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