7 Types of Grief You Should Know Right Now

Understanding Grief / Understanding Grief : Litsa Williams


Everywhere I turn people are talking about grief, all types of grief. Mostly they are trying to make sense of this complicated world we’re in, which I totally understand. I am someone who writes about grief. I’m also a mental health professional. I’m also a human being who has lost two good friends and a family member in the last three months.

In reading all these articles, I am some strange combination of heartened and annoyed. Weird, I know. On the one hand, I am so glad to see it acknowledged, to see support for all the loss in the world right now. And on the other hand, I am annoyed by the messaging I keep seeing which implies there are simple labels, easy answers, or quick fixes. Spoiler alert: there aren’t.

One of the confusing things right now is that we talk about this “current crisis” as though it is just one thing. We are all getting a lot of messages trying to label what we’re going through. This is ambiguous grief. What you’re feeling is anticipatory grief. This is existential anxiety. And on and on. But the reality is that this crisis is many things, impacting many areas of life and creating many losses.

Each of us is having an individual experience. We are having different losses within this crisis. Our circumstances are wildly varied. We are all coping in different ways.  What we are coping with in the world at the moment isn’t any one thing. So today we just want to quickly explain a bunch of things. Not to overwhelm you (we hope), but because we want to make sure you know there is a lot to what people are feeling and experiencing right now.

Some things you read about, here or elsewhere, might be relevant to you. Some might not be relevant to you, but you might be seeing them in the world around you. It’s a lot, and it’s normal.


7 Types of Grief and Loss to Know Right Now

We talk about types of grief all over this website, but we know at this moment you might not be interested in reading through full posts on different types of loss to sort out what you’re going through. So we’ve created some cliff notes of those we think might be the most relevant.

Non-Death Loss

A person can grieve the loss of anything significant to their physical, psychological, spiritual, and interpersonal lives. Throughout a person’s life, they will experience many non-death losses. Some will feel minor and manageable—while other losses feel devastating and life-altering.

Many types of losses are capable of causing complicated emotions, difficulties in daily functioning, and impairment in one’s ability to move forward. These losses are often significant enough to require a decent amount of processing and, like after a death, grievers often view their lives in terms of “before” and “after” the loss.  You can read our full post about non-death grief this here. Or if you prefer to listen, you can check out our podcast episode on non-death losses. 


Secondary Losses

When it comes to grief, it is easy to focus on the one, big, central, or “primary” loss that someone is experiencing. But the reason grief can feel like it upends every area of life is that a primary loss can kick off a string of secondary losses. After experiencing a devastating loss, grieving people are often surprised to find there is a ripple effect of subsequent losses.

The primary loss causes such significant shifts and fractures that there is a domino effect of losses related to things like finances, friends, community, worldview, faith, sense-of-self, and the list goes on. There is a lot to be said about this topic, so read our full post on secondary loss here. Or, if you prefer to listen, our podcast episode on secondary loss is right here. 


Ambiguous Loss

This feels like a tough one to sum up in a sound bite here, because there is so much to ambiguous loss. Pauline Boss has been bringing us amazing research on this for over forty years. Ambiguous loss happens when you’re grieving someone who is still living. It’s different than the grief you experience when someone you love dies. That kind of loss is finite and certain, and there’s no question you should feel pain. Ambiguous loss happens when something or someone profoundly changes or disappears. A person feels torn between hope things will return to normal and the looming sense that life as they knew it is fading away like a Polaroid developing in reverse.

One type of loss is when we grieve someone who is still physically present in our lives but who is “psychologically absent” (because of something like dementia, substance use, or a traumatic brain injury). The other is the type we are seeing more of right now, grieving someone who we can’t physically be with. We have a whole post on the former type of ambiguous loss here, and a post on the latter type of ambiguous loss here. 


Cumulative Loss

You can probably take a guess at what this is. Cumulative loss refers to the experience of suffering a new loss before you have the chance to grieve a first loss. It comes up when we suffer multiple losses in quick succession. It’s important to note, grieving the death of a loved one is never really “done”. It’s common for new losses to bring up memories and emotions about past losses. So some amount of cumulative grief is almost always a given. When we become overwhelmed by anything our mind kicks into an incredibly powerful defense mechanism, which is avoidance.

Though avoidance may seem like a really bad thing (and it can be), it can be our body’s way of keeping us functioning in the short term. When we are overloaded with multiple losses, this avoidance allows us to maintain our day to day activities, which in many cases is adaptive. What becomes important when losses have become cumulative is an awareness that we may need to make a concerted effort to begin the work of facing the reality of the loss, as this avoidance can’t continue indefinitely. If you’re coping with cumulative grief, you can check out our full post here.


NonFinite Loss

From childhood, people form ideas about how they think and hope their lives will turn out. People imagine, make choices, and work towards the future they think they want and, in some cases, need. But many things are out of one’s control, When someone doesn’t have the child, partner, job, or life they want, they may experience nonfinite grief. Nonfinite grief is something a person may carry with them for a long time. It continues as they struggle with the push and pull of trying to achieve their hopes and dreams but continually finding that life falls short of their expectations.

Any time our life doesn’t match up with our expectations or schema, we are at risk of non-finite grief. If the world is bringing up a lot of dissonance between what you thought things would look like and what they do look like at the moment, this might be the word to describe what you’re coping with!


Anticipatory Grief

If there is one type of grief that people are familiar with beyond regular-old-grief, it is often anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is grief that occurs before a potential loss. Any time circumstances lead a person to think that death is a real possibility, they may start to grieve aspects of the loss. Anticipatory grief doesn’t mean that a person will grieve any less. It just may mean they process elements of the loss more slowly and overtime. Anticipatory grief brings up a lot of complicated emotions, so please check out our full post on anticipatory grief here.


Disenfranchised Grief

Disenfranchised grief is when a person feels denied the right to grieve by family, friends, community members, or society on the whole. When a loss is disenfranchised, it means the grieving person isn’t getting the support or validation they need. This means different things to different people. Where one person only needs validation from themselves, another person may feel they need the acknowledgment of their entire family, community, or society.

Regardless, the impact of disenfranchised grief is that the person experiencing it feels alienated, invalidated, ashamed, weak, etc. There are so many, many things that can feel disenfranchised depending on your own experience and your own support system. If you’re feeling this experience, check out our full post on disenfranchised grief here.


What about traumatic grief? 

You may be wondering about traumatic grief. There is a lot to be said about that and we can’t sum it up in just a couple sentences, so if this is on your mind just head on over to our full article on grief after a traumatic loss.


Want to hear us talk a bit more about all of these? We gotcha. Check out our podcast episode on this topic below.


Free online grief support course for grief during COVID

https://school.whatsyourgrief.com/p/grief-isolation-covid

What do you think? Relate? Don’t relate? Leave a comment! And as always, subscribe over in the sidebar to get our weekly update right to your email!

Let’s be grief friends.

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12 Comments on "7 Types of Grief You Should Know Right Now"

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  1. Aralyn Doiron  June 22, 2020 at 8:25 pm Reply

    For some reason, my post was not permitted as it was called a “duplicate comment”. Not sure what that means…but I am deeply appreciative of the work you are offering here WYG.

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  2. Aralyn Doiron  June 22, 2020 at 8:22 pm Reply

    Thank you so much for delivering these important distinctions right now especially. I am more and more realizing the importance of grief (in it’s many forms) to the fullness of life. I no longer label it as bad or negative. The most precious gifts to me have come at times of recognizing the depth of feeling and aliveness within grieving.

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  3. Stephanie Prochaska  June 12, 2020 at 4:02 am Reply

    I’m considering therapy and this article is encouraging me to continue that. My grief is complicated. I’ve been through things like a failed business and brain surgery. I had 2 miscarriages and as a result had a (2) hysterectomys. I didn’t have the energy to sue the first dr, but I’ll never set foot in his office again. That all happened between 2012-2018. Meanwhile, I knew I was blessed with a great supportive family and Church and many good things.

    On July 22, 2019 my 17 year old son died in an accident when the mower he was using rolled in the ditch. We discovered him a few hours after he was gone. I don’t know how to process this.

    To make matters worse, my dad also passed away 4 months later, at Thanksgiving. Then my oldest moved away to a University – everything I ever dreamed of for her, but not carying so much pain. Her brother was her best friend. My other daughter is also obviously depressed, but she doesn’t want to cry, or talk, or acknowledge what happened. They were also best friends. Alex was in the middle, their ages at that time were 15, 17, 19. We held Alex back so he and his younger sister were always in the same class. His older sister and he shared a love for SCUBA Diving and had returned from Honduras just a few days before he died. Alex was a good boy in every sense. He belonged to 2 youth groups and he loved Jesus. When I got in to his electronics, I discovered nothing bad – nothing a mother would be ashamed of. He was obedient, yet fun. He was a really hard worker. He was mowing for his grandpa, who he loved more than anything.

    My husband works. All the time, that’s his process and it’s working for him. Me? I’m laying in bed tonight after having kidney stones for the first time ever…. why does that happen to me? I had the flu in January for nearly a month. I think my body is just breaking down around me and I wait patiently to see what comes next.

    We are a strong Christian family and my faith is strong. I trust Him, even if I don’t understand what’s happening. I just need some mercy right now. I was coping by attending Bible study and Church. Sunday grocery dates with my husband, and many girl-friend lunches mid week…. then Covid hit. My university daughter had her whole plan uprooted. My younger daughter as well. Everywhere we go we hear about this disease, and rioting, politics and media, 10,000 opinions that don’t matter to anyone except themselves.

    Where do I find help? I went to one counselor early in, but we didn’t click. What am I trying to accomplish? I can’t bring my Alex back. I just need to somehow hold this family together. I used to hold that role, now I’m not sure any of us do. Thank you for listening. #rememberingmyAlex

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    • Kristi  August 4, 2020 at 6:48 pm Reply

      Hi there, I am so sorry you have had to experience so many things. I am a marriage and family therapist intern and highly recommend therapy for you and/or a grief support group.
      You’re absolutely right, nothing in this world can reverse these losses. A therapist can help you reconcile this, provide coping strategies for the hard moments. A therapist can enable you to reassess your family system and collaborate with you on how to rediscover how your family dynamic will function in the wake of these losses. They will discuss self-care, forgiveness, guilt, anger, etc. They will challenge myths and unhelpful messages society has taught us.
      Recommended reading: Grief Recovery Handbook. (They also have groups across the country).
      Psychology today can help you find grief experienced therapists in your area.

      Grief recovery is not about forgetting or moving on. It’s about reshaping and completing our relationship with the things and people we have lost.

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  4. Emily Thrioux Threatt  May 21, 2020 at 4:54 pm Reply

    Your insightful description of each of these types of grief is so important. So many people think that grief is real only when we suffer the death of a loved one. When other types of grief occur, people are hesitant to deal with it or get help. The truth is, we all grieve things, some more that other, and by dealing with that grief, we can liv your best lives. Thanks so much for this post!

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  5. Kathy Lee Brown  May 16, 2020 at 3:27 pm Reply

    This was very informative and helpful. Ty

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  6. Patsy  May 12, 2020 at 10:01 am Reply

    Thank you for the WYG information, I really have enjoyed receiving your e-mail. As a new Bereavement Coordinator, I have found your education to be very helpful. I look forward to your pod-cast and educational information. This is a wonderful program,

    Patsy

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  7. Alicia Ochoa  May 11, 2020 at 2:28 am Reply

    I can’t grief my husband before he died he had a affair with he’s supperviser got her pregret that what she says .. and after he died i found out that he got life insurance 75,000 he only told me that there no life insurance at all he lied ….he got it in February 20 2020 and he buy a bran new house in China calif for he’s new girlfriend the supervisor. .. and him self. He was faking everything he loves me there no one. all he getting information about my house paperwork my mortgage information
    And took my birth certificate my driver license sending it by FedEx to his girlfriend what ever he’s girlfriend was telling what do and get and he did everything she whats. .she has all my personal information he had a massive tomor in he’s brain and he died he did get to,sleep in his new house but she got the the rest of the money and I don’t what to pay for any thing part of his death ..?they where planning to destroy me take away my house is have a lot hate angry sad what my was doing to been married 40 years bet this girlfriend about 7 to 8 month and the stuff he gave her he did not pay nothing in the house no bills at all I have over 4000 dollers of bills that light 2000 dollers 700 gas water 600
    tranch300

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    • Kristi  August 4, 2020 at 6:51 pm Reply

      You CAN grieve your husband and you are grieving him. But I recommend seeking some professional help to assist you in working through the complexities of this loss. No one has to do it alone.

      psychologytoday.com will allow you to find a provider in your area.

  8. Nancy  May 8, 2020 at 7:53 pm Reply

    In my experience, having experienced all seven of the griefs listed, disenfranchised (non-death)
    grief has been the most devastating. After many years, I am still in the process of this grief and have no clear path as to
    when it might completely ease. Being 75, I do hope I might feel myself again before I die.

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    • Lisa  June 9, 2020 at 7:29 pm Reply

      I read this article and just happened to read the comments….I’m so sorry, Nancy, that you don’t feel yourself after having lived and experienced so much. I pray that you will once again enjoy the simple pleasures of life while at the same time navigating this difficult season. God bless you.

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    • Kristi  August 4, 2020 at 6:53 pm Reply

      I’m so sorry your grief has been dismissed and/or neglected. This type of grief can make you completely doubt yourself and the people around you. This is absolutely something you can work through, it’s never too late. Please consider seeking out a grief counselor/therapist.
      Another helpful idea is to read accounts of other people who have experienced a similar grief or to become involved in a support community that deals with your particular loss.

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