Types of Grief and Loss

By David Tillman

Six Types of Loss:  Mitchell and Anderson [1]

Material Loss: “the loss of a physical object or of familiar surroundings to which one has an important attachment.”
Example: missing wedding ring, home fire or moving to different state.

Relationship loss: “the ending of opportunities to relate oneself with, talk to, share experiences with, make love to, touch, settle issues with, fight with, and otherwise be in the emotional and/or physical presence of a particular other human being.”
Example: death of spouse/partner, breakup, or divorce.

Intrapsychic loss: “the experience of losing an emotionally important image of oneself, losing the possibilities of ‘what might have been,’ abandonment of plans for a particular future, the dying of a dream”
Example: being fired, debilitating accident or miscarriage.

Functional loss: “loss of “some muscular or neurological functions of the body.”
Example: loss of mental or bodily function from heart attack or stroke.

Roll loss: “the loss of a specific role or of one’s accustomed place in a social network.”
Example: loss of job, retirement or demotion.

Systematic loss: “when one counts on a personal relationship system (home or job) that changes”
Example: going to college, losing a job or finishing school.

Other losses:

1) avoidable and unavoidable, 2) temporary and permanent, 3) actual and imagined, 4) anticipated and unanticipated, and 5) leaving and being left.

Sources for the feeling associated with grief:

1) Contemplation of the loss itself, 2) Contemplation of the future without the lost object, 3) Contemplation of the unexpected experience of grief itself.

Grief emotion clusters: 1) numbness, emptiness, loneliness, and isolation, 2) fear and anxiety, 3) guilt and shame, 4) anger and 5) sadness and despair.

Disenfranchised Grief:

“There is no public or social acknowledgement of or support for one’s grief.”[2]

“The loss is confusing, people are baffled and immobilized. They don’t know how to make sense of the situation.” [2]

“Someone has experienced a loss…but the survivors [or person(s)] are not afforded the ‘right to grieve’…So, although the person experienced grief, that grief is not openly acknowledged, socially validated, or publicly observed.” [3]

Examples: miscarriage, stillbirth, suicide or death of a GLBTQ partner.

Ambiguous Loss: [4]

Perceiving ambiguous loss:

“The loss is confusing, people are baffled and immobilized. They don’t know how to make sense of the situation.”

“The uncertainty prevents people from adjusting to the ambiguity of their loss by reorganizing the roles and rules of their relationship with the loved one, so that the couple or family relationship freezes in place.”

“People are denied the symbolic rituals that ordinarily support a clear loss – such as funeral after death in the family.”

Kinds of ambiguous loss:

Physically absent by psychologically present, because it is unclear whether they are dead or alive.” Example, missing in action or kidnapping victim.

Physically present but psychologically absent. This condition is illustrated in the extreme by people with Alzheimer’s disease, addictions, and other chronic mental illnesses.”

[1] Kenneth R. Mitchell and Herbert Anderson, All Our Losses, All our Griefs – Resources for Pastoral Care, (Louisville: Westminster John Know Press, 1983), 26-61.

[2] Melissa M. Kelley, Grief – Contemporary Theory and the Practice of Ministry, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 12.

[3] Kenneth J. Doka, Disenfranchised Grief (Champaign: Research Press, 2002), 5.

[4] Pauline Boss, Ambiguous Loss – Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), 7-8.