Understanding Grief & Loss – Part 1

“The pain now is part of the happiness then”

CS Lewis

In this series of postings on Grief & Loss, we look at aspects of the grief experience that frequently visit the counselling space. And just as each counselling encounter is unique, so too will be the forms of grief and loss that are likely to be met in that space.


Grief is a strong and sometimes overwhelming emotion that emerges as a natural reaction to loss. It is recognised as both a personal and universal experience, and can be associated with numbness, detachment from daily life, or inability to function in a normal fashion. From the Latin root meaning “to make heavy”, it is the deeply personal and subjective experience of loss, and can incorporate a complex range of emotions, cognitions and behaviours, often accompanied by feelings of guilt, anger and despair (Mallon, 2008).

Loss is a similarly common experience. When we speak of grief as being a reaction to loss we generally think in terms of an association with bereavement. However, at a general level, we may regard loss as being caused by the removal of some object, experience or person with which we have an emotional connection – a ‘lost love’.

Dimensions of Loss

There are many forms of loss and it is possible for some level of grief to emerge in association with any of these.

Intense forms of Loss Subtle forms of Loss
·       Death of a partner

·       Death of a colleague

·       Serious illness of a loved one

·       Relationship breakup

·       Death of a family member

·       Death of a pet

·       Leaving home

·       Personal illness/loss of health

·       Change of job

·       Redundancy

·       Retirement

·       Move to a new home

·       Graduation from college

·       Loss of a physical ability

·       Loss of financial security


Unpredictable Loss

Some losses are unpredictable and can be shocking. Examples include suicide, accidents, events associated with crime, or job loss. It is not possible to prepare for sudden loss, and a persons’ sense of stability or security can be threatened when faced with such losses. A sense of certainty is lost and confidence in the future can be questioned. Sudden loss can cause a person to experience a range of responses that may include sleep disturbance, nightmares, distressing thoughts, depressed mood, social isolation, or severe anxiety. Grief response to unpredictable losses may be subtle and experienced in a private fashion with limited exhibition of emotional response.

Predictable Loss

Some losses, such as those due to terminal illness, or retirement, can allow a person more time to prepare for the loss. However, they create two layers of grief, (a) the grief related to the anticipation of the loss (anticipatory grief), and (b) the grief related to the loss itself.

Circumstantial Losses

Circumstantial losses may not happen to everyone and some may not even appear as obvious losses. Following is a list of some of these losses:






Moving House



Serious illness







Death of a pet


Loss of job



Some of the feelings associated with such losses are, loss of control, loss of trust, loss of self-esteem, loss of dreams, loss of security, loss of faith and loss of hope. These losses can occur throughout our lives and how we manage the grief associated with these losses is very personal and individual.

In our next posting, we examine the circumstances of loss which regulate how grief is determined at an individual level and also consider some of the principal dimensions of the experience of grief.

© Pat Lyons & Margaret Lenihan, 2016

Reference: Mallon, B. (2008). Dying, Death and Grief: Working with adult bereavement. Sage Publications: London

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