Grief, Loss, and Resilience

By: Rhonda MacLeod, Laurence Heckscher, Aaron Pawelek, and Tres Adames

Goal: To offer a comprehensive understanding of the various aspects of grief and loss and to provide PCS participants with concrete strategies for supporting people experiencing grief

Learning Objectives:

  1. Understand the experience of grief.
  2. Learn about the variety of losses that can initiate a grief reaction.
  3. Learn about the different types of grief.
  4. Learn some basic approaches for responding effectively to people who are grieving.
  5. Learn about and foster resilience in grieving people.

What is Grief?

"Grief is the simple shorthand we use for what is actually a highly complex mixture of thoughts and feelings related to the loss of anything to which we are attached: people and animals, objects, or situations." —Alan Wolfelt

The Four Types of Grief

  • "Normal" Grief
  • Anticipatory Grief
  • Disenfranchised Grief
  • Complicated Grief

"Normal Grief"

Normal grief typically occurs when the loss is expected, the bereaved have had time to prepare emotionally and otherwise for the loss, and the death is relatively peaceful or involves limited suffering.

Anticipatory Grief

Anticipatory grief is the grief we feel when we learn of an approaching loss, which has not yet occurred, such as a serious illness, diagnosis of a terminal illness, onset of dementia, or alcohol and drug addiction. 

Disenfranchised Grief

Disenfranchised grief is grief that is not recognized or acknowledged by others. The relationship might be unknown, not viewed as important, or the griever is not recognized.

Complicated Grief

Complicated Grief is grief that impacts an individual beyond 12 months to the point where they are continually thinking about the loss and are experiencing stress and impairment in major areas of functioning. Complicated grief can be an understandable response to an extraordinary or abnormal situation.

Spiritual Caregiver as a Resource for Grieving Individuals

These are eight basic skills the Pastoral Care Specialist can develop:

  1. Be supportive
  2. Listen reflectively
  3. Acknowledge the reality of the grief
  4. Have patience — offer no timetables
  5. Help the grieving person develop rituals for bringing closure
  6. Be prepared to provide referral options for professional counseling
  7. Know your own grief triggers
  8. Develop a non-anxious presence — spiritual caregivers do not need to fix grief

Tasks of Grieving and the Role of Spiritual Caregivers

  • Task 1: To accept the reality of loss
  • Task 2: To work through the pain of the loss
  • Task 3: To adjust to a changed environment
  • Task 4: To emotionally relocate and move on with life

Additional Notes on Grief

These notes on grief were originally included in the module on Harmful Spirituality & Spiritual Struggles (written by Russell Siler Jones), but have been included here instead:

  • Grief is the response to loss.
  • Grief is also the response to any life transition; even if a person is moving into something positive (marriage, new job, etc), there is something that is being left behind.
  • Carrie Doehring highlights the nuances of grief and loss by distinguishing between the potential and actual losses that occur in major life events. These potential and actual losses include material loss, relational loss, functional loss, role loss, and systemic loss (Doehring, 2015, pp. 131-132). There are multiple griefs, related to the wide range of losses humans experience:
    • loss of a loved one (including pets) through death (including miscarriage), physical separation, divorce, or cognitive decline (e.g., dementia);
    • loss of health through illness, injury, or aging;
    • loss of job (including at retirement);
    • losses experienced through natural disasters, e.g., home, physical distancing;
    • losses experienced through natural developmental transitions: children leaving home, students graduating from school and leaving their friends;
    • losses of identity when one leaves a professional or relational role; and more.
  • Grief is more than sadness; it encompasses ANY emotion that is associated with loss or life transitions.
  • Grief is more than emotion: it is a bio-psycho-social-spiritual experience.
  • Kubler-Ross and Kessler identified five “stages” of grief: (1) shock and denial, (2) anger, (3) bargaining, (4) depression, and (5) acceptance (Kubler-Ross and Kessler, 2005).
  • Kessler has recently written about a sixth stage of grief: finding meaning (Kessler, 2019).
  • Spirituality and religion can be a great help to persons grieving: through sacred texts, spiritual practices like prayer, rituals, and the support of persons from one’s religious community.
  • Spirituality and religion can also be the source of harm to persons grieving: when religious friends offer platitudes instead of presence, when the religious community ignores the loss or interprets the loss as judgment, when the grieving person uses spirituality to “bypass” the pain of their loss, etc.
  • Grief often becomes a crucible in which cherished or long-held spiritual beliefs are altered or transformed.
  • For example, a client may have been raised with the belief that God does not give you more than you can handle. Yet in the face of grief, the client may question this “embedded” or “core” belief.

Article on Dealing with Loss

This is an article by Tres Adames that you can print and share with care-receivers who are dealing with grief. A link to a printable PDF version is located after the article below.


Background Research

  • Boss Pauline; Ambiguous Loss- Learning to Live With Unresolved Grief, Harvard University Press, 1999.
  • Doka, Kenneth; Disenfranchised Grief – New Directions, Challenges, and Strategies for Practice. Research Press, 2002.
  • Kelly, Melissa; Grief- Contemporary Theory and the Practice of Ministry, Fortress Press, 2010
  • Kubler-Ross, E. & Kessler, D. On Grief and Grieving, Scribner, 2007
  • Stroebe, M. & Schut, H., The dual process model of coping with bereavement: rationale and description. Death Studies 1999Apr-May; 23(3):197-224
  • Wolfelt, Alan. Center for Loss & Life Transition,
  • Worden, W., Grief counseling and grief therapy, Springer Publishing Company, 1992

Download Slides

If you would like to download the slides from today's module, click the link below.

Comment Discussion

Answer the following questions in the comments below:

  • What are some unhelpful things that people do or say to those who are grieving?
  • What are some helpful things?
  • Describe a time when someone was really there for you during a loss (it could be a family member, teacher, pastor, or friend). What did they do or say to help you grieve through your loss?

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