Are Loss And Grief: Synonymous Or Different?

Photo by Ivan Karasev on Unsplash


For nearly twenty-five years I have been fascinated by loss and grief. I know, sounds morbid, right? However, during that time I have asked many questions to find out what people understand about the topic, and how confident they are in processing their own grief as well as supporting someone else through theirs. Of key importance to me was understanding how people learned about loss and grief.

Loss And Grief Education

I discovered most people attributed their loss and grief education to have come experientially and/or by watching others. Everyone related to the pain of grief, but confessed to being unconfident processing their own grief and supporting others. Responses indicated the pain of grief overshadowed the loss event and the two somehow merged and became one. For a great deal of time grief was the focus of my research. Even though I acknowledged a loss event of some kind precipitated the grief response, I glossed over the significance of understanding loss itself. What if the loss event directly impacts whether a person’s grief process can be completed? How important would it then be for us to know all we can about loss?

The Painful Gift Of Loss

I owe my fascination with loss and grief to the pained, and often angrily spoken statements of “I’m sick of telling my story over, and over again” and “(Counsellors, Psychologists, Psychiatrists) are useless; all they do is open you up and dump you, or fill you with drugs” spoken by scores of adolescents with whom I worked. These statements, and others like them, screamed something was missing for these kids. I don’t think they were asking for a magic wand. I think they were asking to really be heard. To have someone tell them they were okay even if right now they hurt like crazy. These precious kids have been a gift to me, and in a sense a gift to you. Because of their voices, I can pass on to you my discoveries. Hopefully providing a way to facilitate a paradigm shift which promotes healing.

Loss And Grief: Two Sides Of The Same Coin

Let’s begin to unpack the loss event. I said in a previous post, ‘How Do We Deal With Loss That Has No End’, that some loss events, like death, bring with them a finality and others, like divorce, don’t. The latter are in a sense a living death where the loss is complex, and never ending. That kind of loss is called Ambiguous Loss and deserves time to explore, which we will do separately, I promise.

Sometimes the descriptions given to types of grief can be confusing because we think they relate to the associated pain, and they do. However, if we dig a bit deeper, they more accurately point to the kind of loss event that has been experienced. For example, Disenfranchised Grief. Have you ever heard of it? The word ‘disenfranchised’ means to deprive someone of a right or privilege. So, with grief the question becomes, “What loss event has occurred for someone to feel they have been deprived of their right to grieve, and why do they feel that way to begin with? A similar question could be asked of Unresolved Grief, Complicated Grief, Trauma Grief, and so on.

What is Disenfranchised Grief?

In its simplest form, disenfranchised grief often results from a loss event that has been deemed unacceptable, trivial, or unworthy of acknowledgement by others or society in general. These judgements are driven by fear, lack of information, education and/or awareness, and cause people to internalize a perception that they cannot share their pain.

The grief response is normal in the same way we bleed when we cut ourselves. How much we bleed depends on how severe and where the cut is on the body. Before healing can begin an assessment of the cut is made to determine a course of action. It’s not the symptoms that dictate the action, but the knowledge and skills gained through education. The same is true for loss; it needs to be understood. Without education to gain that understanding, the pain of loss, grief, will overshadow the event and people will remain feeling unconfident processing their own grief or supporting others.