What Is Complex Loss?

Complex losses are complicated grieving situations. There are many types of complex losses. I will provide some examples here, but this is obviously not an exhaustive list. Any loss with complicating factors may be considered a complex loss.

  • Disenfranchised losses are unspoken, unrecognized or minimized losses.¬† Miscarriages are one example. Many who experience a miscarriage have no funeral or loss ritual in which to gain support or closure. Friends and family may not understand the significance and meaning of a miscarriage for the bereaved. The fact that a loss is unrecognized by others can make it complex for the mourner.
  • Suicide is a particularly difficult loss. Family and friends may wonder if they could have prevented the death, and feel guilt, confusion, and anger. There is also sometimes an unfortunate stigma in our society around death by suicide, which might make it difficult for a mourner to seek support.
  • Any other cause of death which might be stigmatized (such as a substance overdose or an AIDS death) may also be a complex loss because of the stigma.
  • A homicide presents unique challenges for the bereaved. A violent death often adds additional distress for those left behind. The bereaved may grapple with an altered world view (the world may no longer feel safe, or make sense) and feel heightened helplessness or rage.
  • Ambiguous losses are, by definition, unresolved and lacking in closure. It is difficult to grieve for a family member who is missing, for example, as the mourner is simultaneously clinging to the hope of a reunion while also trying to live in the present.
  • A variety of other examples exist. Many losses are layered with difficulty, such as mourning for a family member who was abusive, or grieving for a family member who hid an affair or a second family.

Complicated grief will be a focus of this website as well. Many who face complex losses will not develop complicated grief, but some will.  Symptoms and signs of complicated grief will be reviewed, as well as resources.


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