Cumulative grief is what happens when you do not have time to process one loss before incurring another. In an ideal world, you would get a chance to metabolize and heal from one loss before you are tasked with facing another.￼With cumulative losses, painful emotions which come from the initial loss bleed into the experience of the next one. As you accumulate losses or traumas, processing the grief from each one becomes harder to handle. For example, during the pandemic, a person may have suffered grief from impaired health, loss of financial security, role or job loss, death of loved ones, and prolonged isolation, often overlapping or in rapid succession.
The complexity of multiple losses includes a mix of painful and sometimes contradictory emotions. You may feel angry, numb, have bring-you-to-your knees sadness, loneliness, and even relief. I often state there is no timeline for grieving and loss is not linear. I have written elsewhere about mourning the living; where the person you are grieving is alive but there has been a permanent rift or rupture, so they are physically alive, but gone.
Over time, the wave of hurt that is sharp and distracting may move to one where it is quieter and softer. Anniversaries of loss can send us right back to the raw place. Clinical psychologist and grief researcher, Dr. Katherine Shear, writes about characteristics of Integrated Grief, what I refer to as metabolized loss in my practice:
– We accept the loss.
– We adapt to a new world with the absence of the person or situation we are grieving.
– We begin to believe again in a positive future.