What Are the 13 Main Causes of Grief?


Grief is a human’s natural reaction to loss. It can arouse conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in what's familiar. Grief can show up after experiencing a normal loss after a minor setback.

People can also experience cumulative grief after several back-to-back losses, ultimately triggering specific grief-related emotional, physical, and psychological symptoms and reactions. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

  1. Death
  2. Estrangement
  3. Financial Loss
  4. Illness or Injury
  5. Other Reasons

While grieving is typically associated with a loved one's death, it embodies much more than this. Many of life's experiences can potentially cause grief.

Although not all losses are considered equal, every setback—whether it is an illness, a health-related issue, loss of income, or a failed relationship—can trigger grief reactions. Some losses are considered worse than others depending on culture and where you live. The following is a list of some leading causes of grief outside of a loved one's death. 

1. Death

When you think of grief and mourning, you may think in terms of the emotional pain and suffering following the death of a loved one. Even though experiencing this type of setback often causes the most profound kind of pain, any loss can cause grief. People typically feel a deeper sense of pain after the death of a loved one than any other type of loss. 

The death of someone you know and love is one of life's most stressful events that can cause a severe emotional crisis. Despite understanding death's inevitability, rarely is anyone equipped to deal with the agony that follows a loved one's death.

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2. Estrangement

A permanent shift in the status of a friendship, relationship, or romantic coupling leading to estrangement is a painful process for anyone who's experienced this type of loss. The relationships shared in life will tend to ebb and flow throughout the years. When you lose one of those connections, especially those that are more meaningful to you, it can leave you feeling destabilized and lost without them. 

Estrangements in family and romantic relationships are all too typical and often expected. But when you suffer the loss of a more meaningful connection or friendship, the pain of that loss may be challenging to cope with. These losses can lead to different types of grief that manifest differently among the bereaved. 

3. Financial Loss

Financial losses often represent unexpected losses. Sudden losses such as losing a home to foreclosure, having a car repossessed, or suffering uninsured losses can all lead to financial grief. People can grieve over lost assets, finances, and incomes in much the same way they grieve over other types of losses. 

Not all economic losses are related to the loss of money, revenue, and assets. They also represent the cumulative losses that follow. Losses such as financial security, lifestyle changes, and an overall sense of loss of identity all relate to seeing a shift in economic standing.

Many people suffer devastating blows after experiencing setbacks related to their assets, savings, or earnings. Some may take years to rebuild what they’ve lost, while others will never bounce back from economic devastation.

4.  Illness or Injury

After suffering a life-altering illness or injury, it isn't unusual for a person to fall into deep despair. You can expect to grieve over the loss of your old life, the things you used to enjoy doing, and the knowledge that your body and health are failing you.

The stages of grief following a terminal or chronic illness diagnosis will take you through some of all of the processes of mourning, denial, anger, sadness, and acceptance.

It may take some time to come to terms with the loss and the accompanying emotions. Grief isn't linear. This isn't how normal grief works. At every setback, you may go through the grieving process all over again. Severe illnesses and injury can affect your sense of mortality and vulnerability, leading to a prolonged period of grieving. 

5. Relinquishment

Grief associated with relinquishment has everything to do with giving up on something. Sometimes it’s in exchange for something new or different. Other times, the change is a forced one. All forms of relinquishment produce a difference in your circumstances resulting in a loss.

Regardless of it being a happy occasion like a marriage or the birth of a baby, giving up a part of who you were may cause you to grieve your losses even when the replacement is something that brings you joy. Some examples of grief-inducing relinquishment include:

  • Breaking up with someone
  • Losing weight
  • Giving up smoking
  • Moving away from home
  • Graduating college
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6. Institutional Losses

The failure of institutions to support their members can lead to institutional-loss grief. For example, failures of the church you belong to, your employer, or even the police's failure to protect all contribute to this type of grief.

A common trigger is a significant change at work, causing a grief reaction sending you into deep despair. Having to adapt to changing circumstances is stressful for those who don't easily conform to change.

While it's never easy to steer through major changes, forced change is emotionally disturbing and can be intimidating. How you experience change and the sense of loss you'll suffer relate to how emotionally attached you are to your job, career, or position.

Whenever your identity is tied into your work and income, you're more likely to experience deeply felt emotional losses. 

7. Death of a Pet

A pet's death is a traumatic event for many pet owners who have a close bond with their furry companions. Often the relationships formed with pets are more substantial than those with friends and family members, especially among young children and the elderly who live alone.

A pet's death can trigger grief-related stress and anxiety that equates to the grief experienced when a loved one dies. 

8. Career Loss

Career loss is a significant cause of grief for many people. The longer you study and prepare to achieve a particular position, the more you'll experience the grief effects relating to its loss. All job loss tends to cause grief at some level. But, the more attachment you have to your job or career, the more likely you're to feel the loss if you ever lose your position.

Grief due to career loss is not relegated only to circumstances of getting fired or laid off from work. You can still suffer a career loss even if you've voluntarily retired or moved on to a different career choice.

Reading books about grief may help you overcome some of the symptoms related to changed circumstances related to your job or profession. 

9. Loss of a Limb

The loss of a limb is a major life-changing event. You can expect to feel grief, pain, and profound sorrow for losing a physical part of your body. In some circumstances, the loss of a limb can lead to chronic depression and low self-esteem. Expect to go through some or all of the stages of grief. 

As time goes on, you'll learn to accept your loss and redefine your identity. It's not uncommon to suffer through grief after losing a limb. The grieving process may be longer under these circumstances because you'll have a reminder of this missing part of you every day for the rest of your life. 

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10. Multiple Losses

Suffering loss after loss close to one another tends to lead to complicated grief disorder. Compound grief is another leading cause of suffering for people who've experienced multiple setbacks without the needed time to heal from one before suffering another. 

This type of suffering is called compound grief and can affect anyone at any age. The losses don't have to be significant ones. A series of small losses can have the same grief effect as more significant ones. When you suffer multiple losses, your grief may feel overwhelming and challenging to get through. 

11. Being Unsuccessful in Love

Sometimes being in a relationship can get complicated. People who find themselves partnered up may struggle with typical relationship issues that fill them with grief. Those who are single and looking for a partner may suffer from a different type of relationship grief - the failure to find themselves in one. 

Being unsuccessful in finding a partner or spouse can lead to feelings of loss, isolation, and low self-worth. Those in relationships may suffer from not being able to navigate through the complexities of being in a relationship successfully. Either way, love and relationships are a significant cause of grief for many people.

12. Holidays

Whenever holidays or select dates and anniversaries approach, they can trigger grief for many reasons. These special days are a reminder to those who've suffered the death of someone they know and love that their loved one is no longer with them.

Sometimes, the grief has nothing to do with the pain and sorrow following a death. Days like these can remind someone of what's missing in their lives, such as not having family close by to celebrate with or not having enough money to travel or purchase gifts. 

13. Becoming an Empty Nester

A major cause for grief is when the last of the children move away, leaving behind an empty nest. While this is traditionally a cause of celebration for many parents in the U.S., it can also have a heavy emotional impact on them.

When the sights and sounds of having their children around from day to day are no longer there, a parent can mourn the loss of their family unit. They’ll celebrate their independence on one hand while grieving their loss on the other. These changes can seem sudden and unexpected, although it’s inevitable that children will one day grow up and leave the house. 

Different Causes of Grief

Grief follows all different types of losses. Death is only but one type of loss that triggers a grief reaction among the bereaved. While a loved one's death is often the most significant type of loss, other life's tragedies and setbacks can trigger the same grief reactions and effects.

You learn to cope with different kinds of grief as life's experiences occur. In time, all grief lessens, leaving you with hope moving forward.


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