My Life As An Analytical Griever

How being an intellectual helped – and sometimes hindered – my grief.

Numerous studies have been done over the years that look at the ways that people grieve. A number of theories about the styles or patterns of grief have evolved from this research. Perhaps one of the best theories I have heard over the years contrasts emotional and analytical grieving.

Emotional grievers are probably the people we stereotypically imagine – loud outbursts of emotions and tears, heavily dependent on those around them, weeping on the shoulders of friends and strangers alike, fully immersed in the emotion of grief whether they are in public or at home.

Analytical grievers, on the other hand, are the people who often get a bad rap when it comes to their grief. These are the grievers who often experience their emotions when they are alone – they save the crying, weeping, and wailing for when they are alone. For me this usually meant breaking down in the car on the way to or from work or, when I just couldn’t take it anymore, in my office at work (thank goodness I didn’t work in a cubicle).

Because analytical grievers don’t often display much emotion in public, people around them often think they aren’t grieving “correctly” or at all. I remember a family member telling me 9 months after my husband had died that he didn’t think I was all that heartbroken because he hadn’t seen me ever cry. The truth was, I cried all the time. For hours and hours, every day. I just did it when I was by myself and didn’t have to worry about what others might think or how uncomfortable I might make them feel. It wasn’t until much later on in my grief journey that I realized that letting go and crying in public from time to time might actually have made me feel better. It would have saved me hours of agony trying to hold in my emotions as they built up and built up until I burst.

We analytical grievers also spend a great deal of time and our grief energy on trying to figure things out and get things done. For some this could mean hours poring over medical researching online, filling out forms, reading every book on grief possible, planning a funeral, or taking up every ounce of busy work available. While my family sat around scratching their heads in confusion, I insisted on going over every detail of my husband’s vehicle accident, over and over. I read the coroner’s report, witness testimony, and practically interrogated the first officers on scene until even they couldn’t take it anymore. I insisted on seeing what was left of my husband’s wrecked vehicle, despite all advice to the contrary. I immersed myself in book after book, seeking out literature that might hold the key to saving me from the mess I was in. For me this was all a part of trying to understand the how and the why of what had happened. I needed information. I needed answers.

Sadly, these answers never came. With every new detail I acquired, I felt as if I understood less and less. All the facts in the world couldn’t take away the simple truth: that my husband was gone and never coming back. Over time, my obsession of analyzing his passing became a distraction from my grieving. Rather than facing the truth and finding healing, I was distracting myself from the pain. Well…as much as one could anyway.

Eventually I began to realize that I would always be left with a multitude of unanswerable questions, and let myself drift into an ocean of pain and emotion. While I never lost that tendency towards trying to “intellectualize” my grief, I began to appreciate and embrace my emotional side as well. There was a delicate balance between trying to understand and just letting myself feel.

So if you or someone you know is grieving, I urge you to take a moment to consider your own grief style as well as theirs. Instead of questioning the way they express themselves, try to remember that there is no right way to grieve. For some, our comfort is in being alone and keeping busy. For others, healing comes from crying on the shoulder of a friend (or stranger). Whatever the case, I urge you to embrace your grieving style and respect the grieving style of those around you.

Our thanks to guest author Emily Clark for sharing her story here with us.  You can read more of Emily’s journey through young widowhood on her blog.

Photo credit


  1. KS said on April 30, 2013 at 9:13 pm ... #

    Thanks for sharing this perspective. A lot of what you wrote really rang true for me. While I wasn’t able to hold back the onslaught of emotions that came after my husband died, it wasn’t something I let out in public. And I was constantly analyzing it, trying to understand what was going on, questioning why my brain wasn’t working the same way anymore, was my way of grieving “ok”? Was I normal? So I am really glad that you have pointed this out. I ended up starting a blog, which helped release a lot of the mental steam I had, and made more room for the emotions that also needed to come out.

  2. Leira said on May 1, 2013 at 2:09 pm ... #

    Thank you for sharing this. I’m more of an analytical griever myself (although I didn’t know there was a term for this). People have bugged me quite frequently that I’m not letting my emotions show enough…I usually want to respond by punching them in the face… As that would probably go poorly, I just tell them to leave me alone.

  3. Faisal Rehman said on May 1, 2013 at 3:33 pm ... #

    The article correlates with me so much.. I grief at home when I am alone, all day long. Especially on weekends when I do not have to go to office. I spend much time online, reading about grief and about death and about life hereafter.. But, I believe that this analytic form of grieving is extremely more painful and unbearable.. I usually fall asleep to avoid the pain, and wake up late, hoping that I may not wake up at all… Sometimes I feel that, no matter how much I try to avoid this from happening, I might just commit suicide one day. Therefore, if you are not alone like me, then I would suggest to avoid analytical grief and reachout to someone to help you with the grievibg process. Sorry if I said something wrong..grief is just very painful

  4. Bonnie said on May 1, 2013 at 9:59 pm ... #

    Thanks so much for sharing. I so relate to your approach to grief. I’ve lost family members via death since I was a child (my mother at age 10), therefore I think I’m far more analytical than I should be. It’s natural for a child to be analytical when there’s no one to help with emotional grieving. I’ve been thru a divorce and other relationship breakups, and after short periods of emotional grieving, alone, it was right back to the analytical approach. I’m not judging whether this is the best approach, but it’s good to know I’m not alone.

  5. Stephanie said on May 4, 2013 at 10:15 am ... #

    Fantastic information! I am an analytical griever as well but yet had not come across these descriptions. Crying in the car on my way to and from work is part of my routine too; in fact, just yesterday I was doing it and found myself thinking that the seats in my car must have increased exponentially in weight from the tears they have absorbed since my dad got sick and then died. Thank you for the post!

  6. Kathleen said on May 6, 2013 at 8:54 am ... #

    I am an analytical griever also. Most of my emotional responses to my brother’s death have been while I was alone or with my sister, with whom I am very close. I would not feel comfortable otherwise. I feel very connected to your need to research every aspect of your husband’s death. We lost my brother almost two years ago to suicide and I have read a mountain of literature on grieving and surviving suicide. I have walked for, donated to and promoted education in the prevention of suicide and I’m only beginning to understand that on some level I do it to make up for the things I “should have” done before his death. There is no greater pain than accepting the fact that someone you loved is gone and I agree that everyone has their own method and time of grieving and should be left to it. Thank you for your words. I feel better when I know this pain is not exclusive.

  7. Celeste said on May 7, 2013 at 11:58 am ... #

    First, I am so sorry for your loss.

    Second, ah yes, the obsessive grief. When my son was stillborn, I spent hours researching causes for his death. Armed with information, I monitored pregnancy boards and “educated” pregnant women about the symptoms of preterm labor, and urged everyone to call their doctor. I mean, still good advice and I still do the same thing whenever I run across a question from a pregnant woman, but when I first started doing it, it was merely an extension of my grief. It felt SO important that I save someone else. I never could.

    Anyway, I was really moved by this post. Thank you so much for sharing it.

  8. Dave Roberts said on May 9, 2013 at 8:15 am ... #

    Hi Emily. Thank you for one of the better articles I have read lately on styles of grieving. As a parent who has experienced the death of a child, I soon discovered that there was no right or wrong way to grieve. It is about finding a style that suits you best and doing the necessary work to progress from the raw pain of grief to a point where you have learned to find meaning again.

    Please accept my condolences for the death of your husband.

  9. Judy said on May 10, 2013 at 5:17 pm ... #

    Thank you for sharing this. My mother-in-law seems to think I do not show enough grieving as I don’t typically lose it in front of people. She is the emotional griever and over the top. He was her son, but my husband and sometimes I was made to feel that it wasn’t as great a loss for me and our kids as for her. I feel validated after reading your article. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

  10. Angel Malone said on July 20, 2013 at 4:06 am ... #

    I too have gone over every detail of my husband’s accident trying to find some reasonable explanation. The truth is, no one may ever know what happened. I have spent hours a day trying to imagine what he was thinking only to find myself an emotional wreck regretting my last words to him. Being an analytical griever can drive you insane if you are not careful. It is helpful to have someone you can call on day or night who will listen to your ranting because sometimes that’s what you really need. Thank you so much for sharing.

  11. Sarah said on July 20, 2013 at 7:14 pm ... #

    Great article! I am glad to know that what I am going through actually has a name. I have thought that I was alone in this type of grieving. I had been a caregiver to my maternal grandmother for over 5 years and lost her this April. I lived with her, ran her to appts, was her chef and she was my best friend and in a sense my mother. When she was alive I felt as if I had a sense or a purpose, now that she is gone, I am totally lost without her. I go over every detail from the week before she passed to see if there was something that I missed, something that she had tried to say to me. People tell me that it is not healthy to grieve in such an obsessive manner, what they don’t understand is it is the only way that I can grieve, it is the only way that my mind knows how to work. I rarely cry in public, I hold in all of my emotions until I know that I am safely alone and that no one will interrupt me. I feel some times as if I am suffering in silence. Thank you for posting your article. It has given me a renewed sense of hope and an understanding of what I am going through and that it is ok no matter what anyone says. Again thank you and I am so sorry for your loss

  12. Michele said on February 24, 2014 at 10:15 pm ... #

    Analytically grieving. I suspect that is me. My husband died by suicide on 10/22/12. I spent a year doing more analyzing,crying,question asking,detail fetching, then I’ve ever done in my life. All of that was surrounded by many, many nites of journaling,crying,hugging myself. Then I met another beautiful man, a little over a year after my husband’s death. I heard people say “Well, it HAS been a year!”. And others would say “It has ONLY been a year”. It was MY year. My year of grief, struggle, wiping myself down from the heaviness of it all.

    And now, my second beautiful man has just died, unexpectedly, from a heart arrhythmia. I feel the same heaviness shrouding me. I try so hard to see what’s coming, because I’ve been thru it before..but it doesn’t help. I cannot shield myself from the shock, the sadness, the tears, the heaviness. It’s as though I’ve never experienced it before, it’s all new. But not.

    Death is so very unforgiving.

  13. Amanda said on April 22, 2014 at 8:33 pm ... #

    Today I ran accross this site after talking to my mother in law about how angry, sad and frustrated I have been lately. 7 months ago I lost my best friend and husband of 15 years. My 6 year old son and I are doing our best to find our new normal but it is very challenging. People in my family have no idea what we are going through and I have no desire to open up, I am a pretty closed person anyway. Especially to ones who tend to be judgemental and think they perfect. Thank you all for sharing. I am comforted in knowing there are people out there who get what I am going through. God bless you all!!

  14. Alice said on June 6, 2014 at 7:41 am ... #

    Thank you so much for this post. This describes my grief style to a tee. I’ve always thought that I’m not grieving properly somehow but it’s extremely validating to see it as just one of many ways to grieve. My mother died on Boxing Day nearly 6 months ago and our relationship was not at all easy.

    The drawbacks of analytical grieving for me are that the people who don’t see me grieving just presume I’m over it and don’t ask how I’m doing. Also, my husband who see’s a few of the tears but just a drop compared to how many I cry alone, does see all the obsessive researching and trying to understand and sometimes gets exasperated that I’m digging for more pain.

    This is not my intention, I just feel that huge need to understand our relationship and to make sense of my life with and without my mother. At times it helps enormously to gain some insight and at other times as you say, there is not really any rhyme or reason.

    Thankyou again for showing me other people grieve in this manner. Love to all who are struggling.

  15. Liza said on July 31, 2014 at 2:52 am ... #

    Faisal, your words clicked with me. Unrelenting is this grief. I too have hoped not to wake the next day. But I do. Each time only to feel the shock of having just heard for the first time that my brother took his own life. Heavy is my heart. I weep. I wail. I rage. I heard some women laughing in another room today. It broke my heart. “Are you okay?” No. No, I’m not. Everyone says they’ll remember his big smile & that big, full-out belly laugh he laughed. That’s how I want to remember him. I’ve not found strength in the last six months. I try to put one foot in front of the other. Some days I do. Some days I don’t. I hope we all find peace.

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