Types of grief

There are many different classifications of grief. How we experience these kinds of losses can impact how we process death-related losses.

The ones we most often encounter and least often recognize as grief are:

Stigmatized loss often includes feelings of shame, blame, hopelessness, or distress. Examples can include losses related to suicide, addictions, HIV, LGBTQ+, infidelity, abortion, infertility, and others.

Ambiguous losses are intangible or uncertain losses that are often not acknowledged.

With ambiguous loss, you can be grieving someone who is physically absent but psychologically present in your life. This can happen with a child or parent in a divorce, or losing contact with a loved one due to military deployment, or incarceration. Parents who put a child up for adoption may grieve for the loss of the child.

Ambiguous loss can also mean you are grieving someone who is physically present and alive but psychologically absent in your life. This can happen when there is estrangement in a family, or in breakups or divorce. It can happen when a loved one has Alzheimer’s disease, or when someone you care about has a mental health or other illness, or a substance use disorder.

We usually think of grief as something that happens after a death - but grief can also be felt in anticipation of a death or other kind of loss. As soon as the possibility of the death occurs in our minds, it is possible (and natural) for us to begin to grieve.

Anticipatory grief can occur for many reasons, some of which might include when someone is diagnosed with a serious or terminal illness, is battling addiction, or is leaving for a military deployment. Anticipatory grief is just like “regular” grief – a wide range of feelings can be felt, and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.

Disenfranchised grief is defined by grief researcher Ken Doka as “grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned, or publicly mourned.” Disenfranchised grief can happen when:

  1. A relationship is not recognized as a loss (an affair, friendship or relationship ending, estrangement where someone has not died but chose to end the relationship, etc.)
  2. The loss is not socially recognized or understood (pet loss, abortion, infertility, LGBTQ+ partner, loss of cultural traditions, etc.)
  3. The griever is not socially recognized as someone who is grieving or people try to protect them by preventing these individuals from their right to grieve (the very old, young children, individuals with a disability, etc.)