Dr. Donna Burns, The College of Saint Rose – Grief and Non-Finite Loss

Apr 12, 2012

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Donna Burns of The College of Saint Rose explores the range of events that can produce feelings of grief.

Donna Burns is a professor of psychology at The College of Saint Rose where her teaching and research interests include developmental psychology, grief and loss, and resilience and wellness. She holds a Ph.D. from the University at Albany.

About Dr. Burns

Dr. Donna Burns, The College of Saint Rose – Grief and Non-Finite Loss

Grief and loss are familiar, well-worn terms most often associated with death. Yet it’s important to recognize and acknowledge grieveable, non-death related losses. When an individual grieves a loss that is not death related, it is referred to as a non-finite loss. Non-finite losses include, but are not limited to, potentially life altering events such as loss of health, disability, divorce, unemployment, or havoc wrought by natural disasters. These types of losses may elicit grief reactions that parallel and sometimes exceed responses typically associated with the death of a loved one.

Surprising? Consider the persistent and enduring nature of non-finite losses. These can be very protracted and often trigger secondary or additional losses experienced as a consequence of the primary loss. For example, divorce - a primary loss - may set the stage for subsequent or secondary losses, such as financial hardship, custody issues, and diminished self-worth.

Non-finite losses can also be disenfranchising. In the midst of coping with a loss that is not death related, non-finite grievers may experience feelings of detachment and isolation due to a lack of social support. This occurs when an event is not recognized as a grieveable loss and the individual is not acknowledged as a griever.
Everyone grieves losses whether finite or non-finite, so to ease the journey: acknowledge and grieve the loss; seek out nurturing relationships with supportive family members and friends; monitor and maintain physical, emotional, and spiritual health; engage in healthy activities that bring enjoyment and satisfaction; and, if persistently overwhelmed, seek help from qualified professionals.