9 Types of Grief and Loss Explained

Updated: 3 days ago

When you hear the word grief, what comes up for you?


For most of us, when we think of grief, we think about death. Our mind pairs the two together - if I'm grieving, someone must have died. While this can be the case, we may also experience grief within a wide range of other life experiences.


I hear a lot of confusion about what grief is. The list below will help provide some context into other types of grief and loss that you (or someone you know) may experience (past, present or future).


Understanding and naming our losses can be the first step towards acknowledgement and receiving the love and support we need through hard times.


It's important to first note and acknowledge that grief is a normal reaction to loss of any kind, and your grief is always valid.



NON-DEATH LOSS


Non-death loss speaks the the grief a person may feel towards the loss of anything significant to their physical, psychological, spiritual and/or interpersonal lives. Throughout your life, you may experience many forms of non-death losses, some which feel bigger and heavier than others.


Examples of Non-Death Loss:

  • Loss of Employment

  • Illness or Injury

  • Trauma

  • Divorce or Separation

  • Mental or Physical Illness

  • Infertility

  • Empty Nest

  • Addiction

  • Life Transitions

  • Moving

  • Disconnection from Family or Friends

  • + More (this is not an exhaustive list)


ANTICIPATORY GRIEF


Anticipatory Grief is the loss that occurs before a portential loss occurs. Anticipatory Grief often occurs when a situation arises that leads a person to think or consider that death (or loss) could be a real possibility. You may begin to anticipate the loss and grieve aspects of the loss before it occurs.


Anticipatory Grief often brings up our deepest fears, we begin to imagine the unimaginable and plan for a future without our person, and often times we keep those things hidden inside because we fear what might happen if we speak those fears outlaid.


Examples of Anticipatory Grief:

  • Illness

  • People engaging in risky behaviours

  • Impending ending of a relationship

  • Anticipatory grief may also arise during times of celebration - birthdays, holidays, anniversaries that are missing someone significant

  • Thinking about the inevitability of our own death or the death of a loved one

  • Fears of the unknown


TRAUMATIC GRIEF


Grief is not always traumatic, although it can be. Traumatic grief arises when we experience unexpected loss, out of natural order.

  • Death of a child at any time or any age

  • Death of a parent that is unexpected and/or sudden

  • Death of a partner/spouce that is unexpected and/or early

  • Homicide

  • Suicide


SECONDARY LOSS


Secondary losses are related/connected to a primary loss. When a primary loss occurs, many grieving people find themselves grappling with the impact of many secondary losses. It may feel like a domino effect, one thing happens and then there is a range of other losses that follow.


Secondary losses can be extremely challenging, as they compound upon the primary loss (See Cumulative Loss). These losses often don't get the same acknowledgement or support as the primary loss. However, the impacts can be deeply impactful and also life altering.


Examples of Secondary Loss:

  • Financial Loss or Instability

  • Loss of a job

  • Loss of friends/relationships

  • Shift in roles/expectations

  • Loss of community

  • Loss of Faith and Beliefs

  • Lost sense of self and/or identiy

  • Loss of hopes, dreams, and future plans

  • Loss of health

  • Lost sense of security and/or stability

  • Loss of time

These types losses can also occur without a primary loss as well - and would then be considered a non-death loss, or disenfranchised loss.


AMBIGUOUS LOSS


Ambiguous loss occurs when you are not sure about what exactly you have lost but a felt sense of loss lingers, and/or when something or someone has profoundly changed or disappeared.


There is a high sense of ambiguity when the details of the loss are unknown, when you are uncertain if things will get better or return to normal. This type of loss often leaves people grappling with the feeling that things have forever changed, while also hoping that maybe one day they will return to normal.


Examples of Ambiguous Loss:

  • Grieving someone who is still alive

  • Loss of closeness, physical proximity, separation, not able to be together in person

  • Relationship dynamics have changed and therefor you may be grieving how our relationship once was

  • Your person may be physically present but psychologically absent - Such as in the case of Dementia, Alzheimers, Mental Health Challenges, Substance use, etc. (This is a very different experience then when you clearly know a person is gone).

  • Disappearance

  • No contact or Estrangement

Currently many of us are experiencing this type of loss as the world ebbs and flows through significant and life altering changes. We may be grieving the way things use to be, the way our relationships with loved ones once were, the ability to gather, and to attend weddings and funerals, etc.


The unknown that comes with ambiguous loss creates tension and difficulty - not knowing when or what we should be doing. This type of loss if often difficult to make sense of because there is high levels of uncertainty, and it is often a mixed emotional experience. Do we let go completely, or hold onto whats left?


NON-FINITE LOSS


Thought our lives, we have ideas about how we think our lives should look, how we want things to be, and when we want certain things to happen. We spend time imagining, visualizing, talking about, make choices for, and working towards the futures that we think that we want (this may involve our career goals, house, kids, marriage, travel, etc) - but what we don't plan for is the uncertainty that comes with being a human. So much of life is out of our control, which has become even more apparent for all of us over the past couple of years.


When we don't have the things we thought we wanted/the things we planned for or worked towards - we may experience non-finite grief.


There is a push and pull experience that comes with trying to achieve your hopes and dreams, while also navigating the impact of feeling like your life is falling short of your expectations/plans/hopes/dreams.


Examples of Non-Finite Grief:

  • Your idea of what day to day life is "suppose to" look like versus how it actually is

  • The idea and expectations about the natural order of life events

  • How the big events in our life were "suppose to" look, or how we wanted them to be - maybe for you its graduation, prom, your baby shower, your wedding, your best friends wedding, your 30th or 60th birthday party, your retirement celebration, funerals and celebrations of life.. and the list goes on

  • Uncertainty about what is going to happen next

When things aren't looking the way we imagined them to in our mind there can be a deep sense of grief that arises. We may feel like we should be grateful for what we have, so we rationalize with ourselves that other people have it worse, and while these things may be true - that doesn't take away from the pain of these experiences.


Your grief is valid regardless of your loss and regardless of what someone else may be going through.


CUMULATIVE GRIEF


Cumulative grief or cumulative loss, speaks to the experience of suffering a new loss before you have a chance to grief the first loss, and/or when you have experienced multiple losses in a short amount of time.


There often is a sense of cumulative grief that comes with any type of loss, because as mentioned above, a primary loss comes with a range of secondary losses which can cause a lot of pain and stress.


COLLECTIVE GRIEF


Collective grief is grief that is felt by a group. When a community, group of people, or a nation experience an extreme change or loss, or experience the ripple affects of a massive change or loss.

  • Natural disasters

  • Death of a public figure

  • Terrorist attack

  • Pandem*c

  • Climate change and the disconnection from the natural world


DISENFRANCHISED GRIEF


Disenfranchised grief refers to loses that may not be socially recognized or acknowledged, often leaving the griever feeling like they are denied the right to grieve, receive support, or validation that they need to move through the loss.


The person who experiences this type of grief may feel alienated, invalidated, ashamed, isolated, alone, etc.


The grief process and individuals expression of grief may be disenfranchised by others. And different types of losses may be disenfranchised as well. Often non-death losses are disenfranchised because these types of losses are invalidated, minimized or over looked by others and society.


Examples:

  • Pregnancy Loss, including Abortion and Infertility

  • Adoption that doesn't go through

  • Loss of mobility or health

  • Loss of a relationship that is stigmatized or seen as insignificant by others (ex-partner or spouse, co-worker, pet)

  • The way the person died is stigmatized (suicide, overdose, HIV/AIDS, drunk driving)

  • The way in which you are grieving is stigmatized

  • The person grieving is not recognized as the griever

  • Not directly experiencing the loss, yet still feeling the impacts of the loss

  • Grief and loss that comes with trauma


9 TYPES OF LOSS DISCUSSED:

  • Non-death Loss

  • Anticipatory Grief

  • Traumatic Grief

  • Secondary Loss

  • Ambiguous Loss

  • Non-Finite Grief

  • Cumulative Grief

  • Collective Grief

  • Disenfranchised Loss

If you are experiencing loss of any kind, know that your grief is valid and that you don't have to navigate these tender times alone.


If you found this post helpful, please share it with someone you think could benefit as well.



Need support identifying your grief and/or navigating your way through loss? Book a free connection call today.



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