Loss and Grief

Loss and grief are universal.  In other words being human means we will experience a variety of losses throughout each of our life times and we will grieve those losses.  Grief or bereavement is not optional, but many of us sure try and usurp the process!  Bringing a little ease and a sense of hope and possibility to your or anyone’s grief process is a mission of mine.  Here are some resources in that regard.

I’ve grouped the material into a few content areas or themes.  My intention is to give you a starting point for exploration on a particular aspect of grief.

If You Are Grieving…

To grieve is to be human.  Grief unto itself is not illness (there are exceptions), but you may find an increased likelihood of being ill while grieving.  Grief is also a normal response to loss, one that follows its own timeline, not the one that what society often tries to dictate.

Specific types/situations of Grieving…

  • Complicated Grief:  To a certain extent all grief is complicated.  Grief can imply that our life has been turned upside down and “normal” as we know it has gone out the window.   Talk about complicated!  Some times however the circumstances of the loss and/or the nature of the relationship with the person who has died (e.g. abusive parent who has died) can add to the layers of what one is working with in the grief process.  Here’s an overview article on Complicated Grief on the Grief Healing Blog.  Prolonged or unresolved grief are also sometimes used to describe complicated grief.  While I question the good grief/bad grief in this article, When Good Grief Goes Bad (HuffPost), it nonetheless offers some further insights into prolonged grief. The article also gently reminds us that the timelines for grief are fluid.   See also ambiguous loss below.  
  • Anticipatory Grief:  It is possible for the grieving process to begin before the loss occurs.  Consider the scenario of care-giving for someone with Alzheimer’s/a terminal illness.  Whenever we can anticipate the ending, there is the potential for a sense of loss.  Knowing you are moving to a new job in a new city might be filled with excitement.  It might also be colored with a sense of impending losses – changes in relationships, loss of the familiar.  Here’s an example of grieving before a death and a definition of anticipatory grief in an article on the website What’s Your Grief.  Another perspective is the sense of never ending or infinite losses in the context of chronic illness.  A sense of loss begins with diagnosis (or before) and then as the disease or condition progresses there is a seemingly never ending supply of losses in abilities, capabilities, functions, connections, etc.  Here’s an article written about grieving chronic illness and injury.  
  • Disenfranchised Grief:  Described as “a grief that persons experience when they sustain a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, publicly mourned or socially supported” (Doka, 1989, p. 6).  Pet loss, divorce, miscarriage, suicide, death of a partner that is unacknowledged by family, death of a co-worker, or job loss are examples of losses that might factor into disenfranchised grief.  There are many more.  Here is an overview of disenfranchised grief  on the Grief Link website along with 3 brief case studies to offer examples.
  • Ambiguous Loss:  An air plane crashes and the bodies are not found, a child who goes down to the park and is not seen again, dementia, divorce – all are examples of unclear losses that defy closure, also know as ambiguous loss.  The first two represent  psychological presence with physical absence, the latter physical presence with psychological absence.  For more information..(Pauline Boss).
  • A Grieving Child:  Children are not immune to loss and grief.  With our best of intentions we often try and shield children from a loss yet it is healthy for children to grieve.  There are age appropriate strategies for helping children in grief.  Here’s an article by Randi Olin in the magazine Brain Child on children and grief including examples of age appropriate approaches.  The New Zealand Education Curriculum contains content directed toward change/transition, loss, and grief.  Included are some exercises that could be used in classrooms.  These could also be used in a family.  Another helpful resource is this pamphlet by the Hospice Foundation of America entitled Grief at School: A Guide for School Personnel.  The publication “outlines the basics of grief responses in children, describes interventions and activities, and provides guidance in building a crisis team.”

Supporting Someone Who is Grieving or Dealing with A Challenging Illness

At the core it is about stepping into potentially difficult or uncomfortable conversations, about letting the person know you care, and about being willing to listen and respect what their needs are.

  • Alan Wolfelt, founder of the Center for Loss and Life Transition has a lovely philosophy he calls companioning.  Here are the 11 tenets of caring for the bereaved – the foundation of companioning.
  • Suggestions on the top 10 things to say to someone who is ill.  Based on the work of Lori Hope and the Aflac Caregiver Survey.
  • The article is directed towards supporting someone who has received a difficult health diagnosis.   Comfort In, Dump Out (Ring Theory Model) presented in this LA Times Article by Susan Silk and Bary Goldman.  The approach can apply to supporting people who are grieving too.  Where are you in the rings?  You may find yourself either closer in or farther out – and it might be a surprise where you find yourself.  It is up to the person who is grieving or processing their news to decide if you are closer in or closer out.
  • Grief as a process contains the two energies of crisis and renewal.  Our innate capacities for learning, growth, hope, and resilience feed the renewal potentiality.  Many of us have heard about post-traumatic stress.  Many of us have not heard about post-traumatic growth.  Here’s an article by Steven Joseph about that.  I believe this is a window into the transformative power of grief.

Grief and Loss in the Workplace…

      • Employees:   Having greater awareness in the workplace of what might be happening for a grieving employee can help to determine whether the organization’s response is helpful or unhelpful.  Example impacts of unhelpful responses include increased presenteeism, increasing (rather than decreasing) the grieving employee’s distress, as well as safety and decision making risks.  Here’s a resource to begin exploring grief in the workplace written by Kirsti A. Dyer, MD, MS.   
      •  Clients/Customer Service:  Any time you are dealing directly with a client, you may be interacting with a grieving client.  That individual is after all human and may have experienced a loss that you don’t know anything about.  Depending on the nature of the services you provide, the client may be coming to you especially because they are bereaved.  The loss has triggered the need for your services.  Examples include financial planners, lawyers, bankers, doctors and other health practitioners.  Stepping into a conversation about loss can be very difficult or awkward conversations.  At the same time it represents an opportunity to show compassion and empathy for your client and offer helpful comments which can lead to positive customer feedback and relationships.  It is however also possible to say not so helpful things.  Here’s some ideas on what to say and not say when engaging with grieving clients.  
      • Leadership:  When there is change in leadership for any reason whether planned or unplanned, employees can experience a sense of loss.  Consider the dynamics of a change in leadership due to death – expected or unexpected.  Having a succession plan in place can be helpful.  Appreciating the impact of the change/loss from a grief perspective can also be helpful for the organization.  Pages 22 – 25 in this HR Professional Magazine offers a window into this perspective.    
      • Organization Culture:  Is your organization is compassionate when it comes to your policies and procedures for grieving employees?  Research suggests having a culture of compassion can be a beneficial in many ways.  Examples include workplace mental health, creative problem solving, and the bottom line.  Here are some thoughts from the Greater Good Science Center on this idea of being a compassionate organization.   Consider completing their Compassionate Organizations Quiz.  The questions could be a catalyst for conversation in your organization.

End of Life/Advanced Care Planning…

  • Advanced Care Planning in BC.  Link takes you to a number of resources provided in different languages by the provincial government of British Columbia.  Includes free access to the My Voice: Expressing My Wishes for Future Health Care Treatment guide.
  • Dying With Dignity Canada is the national organization committed to improving quality of dying, expanding end-of-life choices and helping Canadians avoid unwanted suffering.
  • Video:  Way to go;  Death and the Irish. [Note:  Applicable in North American context too.] Documentary presented by Norah Casey, whose husband Richard died in 2011. It features a range of people including healthcare professionals and terminally ill people speaking about dying.  The programme aims to promote more open discussion about death & dying.
    Documentary produced by New Decade and first aired on RTE 1 July 1 2014.



The content on this page is offered for informational and educational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Copyright © Dr. Catherine Hajnal 2017.  All rights reserved.