There's More Than One Type of Loss/Grief?

Yes! There is more to grief and loss than meets the eye; making the grieving process layered and complex. Not only for those who are grieving but for those who are trying to understand grief and support their loved ones. In this month's blog article, I'll list and briefly talk about some of the most frequently experienced losses. So let's jump in!

Common Loss

A common loss is what we recognize as the most well-known trigger to grief; the death/passing of a loved one. This is the loss that is typically recognized by society via the flood of well-intentioned condolences, funeral service, and the short term check-ins once we've resumed our day-to-day. Due to societal's recognition and validation, most can navigate this type of grief on their own and/or with the help of their support system(s). Please note, this may not be the case for everyone and that's okay (stay tuned for a future blog article discussing influences to how we grieve); each grief journey is unique.

Primary/Secondary Losses

Within common loss are two sub-categories of loss: primary and secondary losses. The primary loss is the individual/loved one you are grieving. Secondary losses are all the additional losses that develop from the impact of having lost your loved one. What's Your Grief describes secondary losses as "a ripple effect of subsequent losses" that cause a "domino effect" (Whats your Grief, 2021). These effects can occur in areas such as finances, family structure/system, friend circle, sense-of-self, etc.

Real Reflections

What secondary losses have you experienced from your primary loss? How do those losses fit in your grief journey?

Ambiguous Loss

Also known as living losses, ambiguous losses are vague, unclear, and inconclusive. The nature of these losses can have multiple impacts on an individual and his/her/their family:

  • Confusion and immobilization; resulting in an inability to make sense of the loss

  • In the event of an ambiguous loss involving a loved one, it prevents families from reorganizing their system's roles and rules of the relationship to the loved one

  • Lack of societal validation and "symbolic rituals" (P. Boss, 1999) that are seen with a common loss

  • (P. Boss, 1999)

Stemming from these impacts, develops what Pauline Boss calls "frozen grief" (P. Boss, 1999) in which the individual becomes immobilized; constantly searching for answers and clarity around the loss.

Ambiguous loss holds two different types:

  • Type I: Physically absent, psychologically present

  • Type II: Physically present, psychologically absent

***Check out my "Holiday Grief with Living Losses" blog ( to learn more about these two types of ambiguous loss.

Anticipatory Grief

This type of grief occurs prior to a predicted or expected loss. Once we learn and realize death is a reality, we may begin to grieve certain elements of the loss. Please keep in mind, experiencing anticipatory grief does not diminish or make the grief journey following the passing of a loved one any easier.

Cumulative Loss

This type of loss refers to experiencing another loss before having learned how to appropriately honor the grief journey of the first loss. It can also be experienced if multiple losses occur within a short amount of time.

Disenfranchised Grief

When an individual's grief experience isn't validated and denied of the societal recognition that's common with grief or is refused the space to appropriately grieve, he/she/they are experiencing disenfranchised grief. In this grief, proper support and validation aren't being provided. It's important to note, support and validation within the grief process look different from one person to the next. For skills/strategies on how to best provide support to a loved one who's grieving, check out my "Supporting Those Who Are Grieving" blog (

Why is it important to understand that there are different types of grief/loss? Hopefully, in recognizing the multiple different ways grief can show up we are able to begin normalizing our individual grief journeys and remove any shame around whether or not we're grieving correctly.

How can we expect there to be one right way to grieve if there are various ways in which grief can manifest? Honor your grief journey; regardless of the type of grief/loss your experiencing.

Here's to living a better life as your best self.

Brittany Squillace, MA, LMFT


- Williams, L. (2020, May 8). 7 Types of Grief You Should Know Right Now. What's your Grief?

- Boss, P. (1999). Ambiguous Loss: Learning To Live With Unresolved Grief. Harvard University Press.

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