Lesson 4: Five Factors Affecting Grief


Every death is sudden, even if it is not unexpected.  – Anonymous

Grief is the internal response that comes about naturally as a result of bereavement, the loss of a loved one by death.  There are many factors that can affect the nature and intensity of one’s grief experience.  A major factor is the degree of attachment to or significance of the deceased.  Generally, the more closely one is connected or attached to the deceased — the more significant the deceased is to the bereaved — the more intensified is the experience the loss, and the more deeply and protracted is the grief.

5 Major Factors That Can Affect Grief

1.  The nature of the relationship with the deceased

  • The strength and security (or insecurity) level of the attachment
  • The type of relationship
  • Mother/father, child (and the age of the child), sibling, grandparent/grandchild, spouse (significant other), friend, etc.
  • A socially un-acknowledged, estranged or disenfranchised relationship, i.e. gay or lesbian, ex-spouse or lover, extra-marital lover, pet, etc.
  • Any ambivalence or conflicts in the relationship, especially those left unresolved
  • Dependencies — emotional, financial, physical, co-dependencies, abusive, etc.

 2.  The nature (or type) of death — circumstances surrounding the death

  • Natural, accidental, suicidal (intentional or accidental), homicidal, protracted illness
  • Suddenness and/or expectedness of the death
  • Violent or traumatic death
  • Suicide after causing the death of other(s)
  • Multiple simultaneous deaths (or numerous within a short time period)
  • Was the death preventable, or believed to be so
  • Ambiguous death – not sure if she or he is dead or alive, i.e. missing, kidnapped, abducted, MIA, etc.
  • Stigmatized death, i.e. AIDS, suicide, drug overdose, drunk driving, etc.

3.  Personality variables of the bereaved

  • Age and gender
  • Temperament and coping style
  • Life experience, birth order, only child, etc.
  • Ego strength, self-esteem level, general mental health, ability to use support network
  • Physical health
  • Assumptive world view, beliefs and values, cultural, religious, spiritual, the ability to make meaning from a perceived tragedy
  • Past grief experiences, whether they have been satisfactorily grieved or repressed

4.  Social variables

  • Support network availability — family, friends, church, community, etc.
  • Cultural, ethnic, religious/spiritual influences and expectations
  • Disenfranchised grief caused by a socially stigmatized relationship or death circumstances

  5.  Other stressors on the bereaved

  • Multiple losses over a lifetime and/or relatively short time period
  • Secondary losses ­— home, health, financial, loss of an anticipated future as when a child dies, etc.
  • Family quarrels or estrangements

There may be many of these factors active for anyone who is bereaved, which can further complicate one’s grief.  This may require professional help to cope with the grief.



Take some quiet time to reflect on the following questions and write down your responses.

  1. Which one (or more) of these factors has significantly affected your grief experience, and in what way?
  2. Have you experienced any of these factors in others (family, friends, etc.) and how did they seem to affect their grief experience?
  3. How would understanding these factors have helped you to be a more helpful support for them?