Understanding Different Types of Grief and Loss and Their Importance

Apr 29, 2022

Understanding Different Types of Grief and Loss and Their Importance


By Kimberlee Bow, MA, LPC, R-DMT, CT, ACS, CFE/T, RSME/T, RYT500


Thank you for continuing the journey of engaging and understanding grief, mourning, and bereavement. Not always an easy journey, but hopefully one worth walking. The next step of the journey is to understand different types of grief and loss and why it is essential to understand them. While not every type of grief will be discussed, hopefully there will be a good depth and breath to support a solid understanding. Please feel free to continue the journey by exploring and learning about other types of grief and loss. And as always, continue to hold this experience with compassion and care.


Ambiguous Loss

Like its name sounds, this type of loss leaves a person feeling like they are in limbo as they try to figure out the loss and how to live with the ambiguity. This type of loss arises in two situations. The first is when a person is perceived as being physically absent but remains psychologically present. Two examples would be divorced families or missing family members who are serving their country overseas. The second is when the person is physically present but is actually perceived as being psychologically absent. Two examples of this type of situation are a family member with Alzheimer’s Disease or friend who has a chronic illness. With this type of loss it can be confusing, there are no rituals associated with the loss, and little validation of loss. Furthermore, because of the ambiguity, oftentimes social networks withdraw due to a lack of understanding how to respond.


Nonfinite Loss

Nonfinite loss is a type of enduring loss that usually has an initial negative life event that retains a physical and/or psychological presence with a person in an ongoing way. Simply said, it is a type of loss that is ongoing and doesn’t have an end in sight. The consequences are, generally, people feeling like they are living outside of mainstream experience of what is considered the normal human experience and many do not know how to understand the complexity and exhaustion. 


Chronic Sorrow

Like the word chronic implies, this is a type of grief that is ongoing in response to living losses. In no way is this type of grief pathological or a disorder. Instead, it is an ongoing response to a loss that necessitates ongoing accommodation and adjustment over time. One of the unique features is the undercurrent of uncertainty and anxiety that people experience.


Disenfranchised Grief 

Disenfranchised grief occurs when people experience a loss that is not or can’t be acknowledged openly, is not socially sanctioned, or publicly mourned. A person may experience a loss that is not recognized by others, which means the grief tied to the loss is not recognized either. The consequences are that people may not be allowed the right to grieve or to mourn. There are five broad categories that potentially give rise to disenfranchised grief: 

  1. The relationship is not recognized
  2. The loss is not acknowledged
  3. The person in grief is excluded
  4. The circumstances of the death are disenfranchising
  5. The person in grief is disenfranchised for nonnormative expression of grief


One example of a loss not acknowledged are life transitions like aging. Another example of disenfranchisement arising from nonnormative expressions of grief are certain cultural expressions of grief like stoicism or wailing that may not fit the grieving rules of a given dominant society.


Masked Grief

As the name implies, this is a type of grief that a person is experiencing but insists they do not have. One example may be what men may experience about gender norms and grief expression. The second example is how people navigate in a society or culture where the norms dictate how one must act following a loss to follow those norms. Masked grief can manifest as physical symptoms or behaviors that can impair normal functioning in life and are often hard to recognize.


Collective Grief

When a community, society, village, or nation are all experiencing big change, transition, and/or loss, that is collective grief. Examples of how collective grief arises are wars, natural disasters, or even a global pandemic, such as COVID-19. Collective grief, like individual grief, gives rise to feeling a lack of control.


Cumulative Grief

Arising from multiple losses occurring in too rapid succession, cumulative grief happens when a person does not have the time to reconcile one loss before another happens. The emotions and experiences from each loss keep building and combining with each successive loss making it more challenging to hold. Additionally, because no two losses feel the exact same, the number of emotions, thoughts, feelings, and experiences may be confusing especially if the emotions are contradictory. 


As mentioned above, these are just a few examples of different types of grief and losses. There are others out there to explore.


Now with a better understanding of a few more types of grief and loss, the question that remains to be answered is why is it essential to understand these different forms. People can experience 

more than one type of grief at a time. It is also possible to not know that one might be in need of going on a grief journey. Part of what may influence the not knowing is not understanding that one may be in grief. That is where understanding the different types helps. It can help people understand and give a name to what they are experiencing as well as potentially give permission to one’s self to feel their grief. Furthermore, it is essential that people engage in their own grief journeys for their own healing, and, if someone is in a position of support to others, it allows for one to be present fully for others and not inject their own experience. Hopefully, in knowing what types of grief people can experience it allows for that exploration and the ability to bring empathy and compassion for self and others.


Thank you for your time in reading this post and continuing this journey. The journey continues next month with another blog post that will continue to build upon everything we have learned thus far. 




Servaty-Sieb, H. L., & Chapple, H. S. (Eds.). (2021). Handbook of thanatology: The essential body of knowledge for the study of death, dying, and bereavement (2nd ed.). Association for Death Education and Counseling.


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