Grief & Loss

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About Grief & Loss

Loss is the transition from having someone or something in your life to not having them or having them less than before.  Grief refers to the way you experience and react to the loss.  While people often only think of grief and loss in reference the death of a person, you may experience grief related to many other types of losses as well.  For example, you might lose someone because they move away or because you have a fight and stop talking.  Some other types of losses might include the loss of a pet, possessions, a home, a country or physical or cognitive health or ability.

 

Secondary losses are additional things you lose as a result of the main, or primary, loss.  Secondary losses may include things like your worldview, your sense of safety or control, your ability to trust other people, your independence, a part of your identity, a future you had imagined for yourself or a life you had planned for, your connection to faith, God or spirituality, or your desire to engage in your typical activities, relationships or communities.  Many primary losses also involve secondary losses, and processing these secondary losses is often an important part of grieving.  In addition, any trauma or life transition also usually involves some secondary losses, whether or not there has been a death or other primary loss.  These secondary losses often need to be grieved before you can fully heal from the trauma or accept the transition.

Types of Grief

The following list describes some different types of grief that I can help you with in therapy.  I have provided some examples of each of one, although since it is not possible to list every example, you may not see your specific situation listed.

Normal Grief – Although people often talk about “normal grief,” the grief process is actually different for everyone and very individual.  There is no one way to grieve, and there is no set timeline.  If you have experienced a loss, you may find that you are able to work through your grief naturally over time, either on your own or with support from family and friends.  On the other hand, you feel like you need or want additional support, which is when therapy could be helpful.

Ambiguous Grief – Ambiguous grief occurs when the circumstances of a loss are not clear.  For example, you may experience ambiguous grief if someone you love has Alzheimer’s, is missing, develops a mental illness, is addicted to substances, is incarcerated or is estranged from you.  In all of these cases, your loved one may still be alive, but you may grieve for the person they were, or the connection you had with them, in a way that feels similar to how you would grieve if they had died.

 

Anticipatory Grief – Anticipatory grief refers to grief that you feel prior to a death or other loss you anticipate happening in the future.  Sometimes the grief response is just as intense as grief felt after a loss, which can feel confusing since the loss has not actually occurred yet.  For example, you may experience anticipatory grief if someone you love is diagnosed with cancer, if a close friend is going to be moving away soon or if your partner is in the military and about to go overseas.

 

Disenfranchised Grief – Disenfranchised grief occurs when your loss or grief is not recognized by society or if the loss itself has some stigma attached to it.  For example, if your ex-partner dies, others may not understand your grief since you were no longer in a relationship with the person.  If you are adopted and a biological parent or sibling that you have never met dies, others might not recognize your right to grieve for someone you never met.  If your loved one dies by suicide or overdose, or if you have a pregnancy loss, others may not want to “hear about it” or may even judge you or blame you, rather than supporting you in your grief.  If you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community or in a poly relationship, you may also experience disenfranchised grief if a partner dies who was not known or recognized by others in your life.

 

Traumatic Grief – Traumatic grief refers to grief related to a traumatic loss.  If your loved one died in a sudden or traumatic way (for example, by suicide, homicide, overdose, heart attack, stroke, medical mistake, car accident, etc.), the death may be both a loss and a trauma for you, which may make the grieving process different or more complicated than it otherwise might be.  Traumatic grief may also occur if the death itself was not necessarily traumatic but the way you learned of the death or experienced the loss was traumatic.  For example, if your loved one died peacefully, but you were the one who found the body, you might experience traumatic grief.  Another example might be if you had to decide to “unplug” a loved one, even after a long illness.  It is also important to understand that all losses have the potential to be traumatic experiences, even those that are not recognized by others as being traumatic.

 

Complicated Grief – Complicated grief is grief that is especially debilitating or long lasting and does not seem to resolve in a “normal” way.  Ambiguous grief, anticipatory grief, disenfranchised grief and traumatic grief may all sometimes also be complicated grief, depending on the circumstances.  Traumatic grief may be especially likely to develop into complicated grief.  Other factors that contribute to complicated grief may include situations in which you feel like you were somehow responsible for the death, or could have prevented it, or situations in which you feel like you had “unfinished business” with the deceased person (for example, if you had not spoken in a long time or had some unresolved argument).

You may also experience more than one of these types of grief at the same time.  For example, if your ex-partner dies by suicide, you may experience both disenfranchised grief and traumatic grief.  If your parent has Alzheimer's or other dementia, you may experience both anticipatory grief and ambiguous grief.  Every person is different.  If you would like to discuss your situation and whether or not I can help you, please contact me so that we can talk about it.