When you throw a boomerang, it comes right back to you every time. “Boomerang grief” comes back to you too, and it’s one of the types of grief very common to those who’ve experienced a serious injury, illness or a death related to work.

Boomerang grief was one of the eight types of grief and loss facilitator Darrin Parkin outlined during the Diving into Grief and Loss session at the National Virtual Family Forum. Darrin is the Spiritual Care Clinician at the High River General Hospital in Alberta, and has served as a chaplain, college instructor and conference speaker.

Grief and loss happen not just when someone dies, but when something is lost, and that may include the loss of the person you knew when someone is changed by injury or illness, or the loss of the life you expected. Boomerang grief, Darrin explained, happens when the individual is forced to re-visit the early trauma caused by an injury or death. For someone going through a court process, inquest or compensation claim, this may mean they must repeatedly hear or discuss the details. But boomerang grief differs from a more healing grief process, because the person grieving feels no control or influence over the process.

Darrin stressed that different people grieve in different ways, and what’s normal for one may not be normal for another. Some people are “intuitive” grievers, very focused on feelings and on living the emotions. Others are “instrumental” grievers, oriented to tasks and to-do lists. Sometimes an intuitive griever may worry that an instrumental griever isn’t actually grieving, but is putting off or denying their emotions. But, Darrin said, “they’re just grieving in a different way. Both ways of grieving are okay.”

One concept researchers talk about is the “trauma membrane” Darrin said. This is an imaginary membrane that wraps around a person, protecting them by allowing the reality of the trauma and loss to come in only gradually, and some of the pain to flow back out. When a traumatic death or injury happens suddenly, he said, people need some way to form that trauma membrane, and keep it permeable so that the pain can flow in and out. Talking with others in a group situation is very helpful for forming that membrane.

The grief lessens and changes shape over time, but people will never be “over” a traumatic loss, Darrin said. Most people begin to think of their lives as “the before and the after” – and that’s okay. “Your grief journey may look different than others’. It’s unique.”

Types of Grief

• “Normal” grief – the process of reacting to a loss
• Anticipatory grief – normal process when expecting a loss
• Grief resulting from the death of a loved one
• Bereavement – the state of having suffered a loss
• Mourning – the external expression of grief
• Complicated bereavement – grief that becomes chronic; a debilitating mental health condition
• Living bereavement – grieving the loss of someone still alive
• Boomerang grief – grief process complicated by a recurring presentation of the trauma

Susan Haldane