grief awareness day

Sunday, August 30th is National Grief Awareness Day.

I thought I would share, in today’s post, the different types of grieving events.

In 1967, Dr. Thomas Holmes and Dr. Richard Rahe, both psychiatrists, researched the medical records of 5000 patients to look at the correlation between their levels of emotional stress and their illnesses. They created the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, also known as the Holmes Rahe Stress Scale, which was used as a scoring mechanism to rate the various stress indicators as part of their study. This list, commonly known as the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, is considered a definitive ranking system.

The Grief Recovery Institute often states that “stress” is another word for “grief.” The Grief Recovery Institute defines grief as:

Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior; the normal and natural reaction to any change that occurs in life.

While it may be helpful in the therapeutic setting to use a numerical ranking scale in looking at stressors related to their impact on medical conditions, this serves no purpose when used in the context of those events that can result in grief. It’s also important to remember that each individual grieves at 100% for their particular loss. There is no need or value to rate one grief-generating event as having more impactful than another since the grief that each person feels is based on his or her own unique situation.

We have all been in situations where we have heard someone say, “you may think your situation is bad, but mine is even worse!” Comparing losses does nothing to help with recovery. To suggest to Griever A that his or her loss is less significant than that of Grievers B only creates more emotional pain for Griever A, in that they may feel the need to further internalize their feelings since they have been told they are of lesser value. Our focus, in grief recovery, has always been that grievers are far better served in taking recovery actions, rather than in arguing over who is hurting the most!

Below you will find the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale for Adults. Some events, such as marriage, may bring to mind more memories of joy than pain. In this case, we need to remember that there is grief associated with changes from normal behavior patterns, of which there can be many in moving from “single” to “married.”

Grieving Events

  • Death of a spouse
  • Divorce
  • Marital separation
  • Imprisonment
  • Death of a close family member
  • Sexual assault
  • Domestic Violence
  • Runaway child
  • Missing child
  • Pet loss
  • Personal injury or illness
  • Marriage
  • Dismissal from work
  • Marital reconciliation
  • Retirement
  • Change in health of family member
  • Pregnancy
  • Sexual difficulties
  • Sexuality
  • Gain a new family member
  • Business readjustment
  • Change in financial state
  • Death of a close friend
  • Change to a different line of work
  • Change in frequency of arguments
  • Major mortgage
  • Foreclosure of mortgage or loan
  • Change in responsibilities at work
  • Child leaving home
  • Trouble with in-laws
  • Outstanding personal achievement
  • Spouse starts or stops work
  • Begin or end school
  • Change in living conditions
  • Revision of personal habits
  • Trouble with boss
  • Change in working hours or conditions
  • Change in residence
  • Change in schools
  • Change in recreation
  • Change in church activities
  • Change in social activities
  • Minor mortgage or loan
  • Change in sleeping habits
  • Change in number of family reunions
  • Change in eating habits
  • Vacation
  • Holidays
  • Minor violation of law
  • Loss of Trust, Loss of Approval, Loss of Safety and Loss of Control of my body

The greatest value to this listing is in helping people understand that grief is not just about death. Stress and stressful events come in many packages, which is true for grief as well.

The Stress Scale for Seniors (55 and older)

A slightly modified version of this Stress Scale was created for those over 55, to reflect those life events that come with aging. In many ways, this scale is similar to the one for adults, but it likewise fails to mention the same stressors and grief causing events that are noted above.

  • Death of a Spouse
  • Divorce
  • Nursing/Retirement Home Move
  • Marital Separation
  • Death of Close Family Member
  • Major Physical Problems
  • Marriage or Remarriage
  • Lack of Dreams/Purpose
  • Financial Loss of Retirement
  • Forced Early Retirement
  • Unable to Drive
  • Marital Reconciliation
  • Normal Retirement
  • Spouse Confined to Retirement Home
  • Family Member Change of Health
  • Gain New Family Member
  • Change in Financial State
  • Death of Close Friend
  • Difficulty in Getting Insurance
  • Change in Arguments with Spouse
  • Mortgage Over $100,000
  • Foreclosure of Mortgage/Loan
  • Sense of Not Being Needed
  • Outstanding Personal Achievement
  • Spouse Begins or Stops Work
  • Decreased Contact Family/Friends
  • Change in Personal Habits
  • Less Contact with Support Groups
  • Trouble with Boss/Work
  • Minor Physical Problems
  • Change in Recreation Habits
  • Change in Church Activities
  • Change in Social Activities
  • Loans of Less than $100,000
  • Change in Sleeping Habits
  • Change in Family Gatherings
  • Change in Eating Habits
  • Vacations Christmas
  • Minor Law Violation

Grieving Events for Children and Teenagers

Yet another version of this scale was developed for, so-called, “Non-Adults.” Just as is the case with the “Adult Scale,” there are many additions that could be made to this list for grieving experiences for children, based on their unique relationships and level of development. This list also fails to include elements of child abuse on any level, sexual matters, bullying, and cyberbullying or such things as loss of Safety, Approval, Faith or personal control.

  • Death of parent
  • Unplanned pregnancy/abortion
  • Getting married
  • Divorce of parents
  • Acquiring a visible deformity
  • Fathering a child
  • Jail sentence of a parent for over one year
  • Marital separation of parents
  • Death of a brother or sister
  • Change in acceptance by peers
  • Unplanned pregnancy of sister
  • Discovery of being an adopted child
  • Marriage of parent to step-parent
  • Death of a close friend
  • Having a visible congenital deformity
  • Serious illness requiring hospitalization
  • Failure of a grade in school
  • Not making an extracurricular activity
  • Hospitalization of a parent
  • Jail sentence of a parent for over 30 days
  • Breaking up with boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Beginning to date
  • Suspension from school
  • Becoming involved with drugs or alcohol
  • Birth of a brother or sister
  • Increase in arguments between parents
  • Loss of job by parent
  • Outstanding personal achievement
  • Change in parent’s financial status
  • Accepted at college of choice
  • Being a senior in high school
  • Hospitalization of a sibling
  • Increased absence of a parent from home
  • Brother or sister leaving home
  • Addition of third adult to family
  • Becoming a full-fledged member of a church
  • A decrease in arguments between parents
  • A decrease in arguments with parents
  • Mother or father beginning work

Taking Action

A very important point to remember is that it is one thing to realize that these are events that can bring stress and grief into your life, and quite another thing to take action. Most people carry around a great deal of grief that they hold inside. Unlike a broken arm or leg that is made obvious by a cast, a broken heart is far less easy to see. As with a broken limb, we take action to heal the wound…action is also needed to heal a broken heart; time alone doesn’t heal a wound, action within time is required.

The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale was first utilized in looking at the strong correlation between the stressors that impact people’s lives and their actual medical issues. People under stress are more prone to a variety of medical complications. Reducing your stress/grief can have a positive impact on your physical well being.

Our focus, at the Grief Recovery Institute, is in moving beyond the emotional pain of loss. The Grief Recovery Method is a proven, step-by-step process for accomplishing this. It’s designed to help people deal not only with past and current issues regarding the stress of grief, but also to provide the tools to deal with future issues, as they develop.

In Closing

As previously stated, the value of these lists is in reminding everyone that there are many life events that potentially cause grief. Society most often thinks of grief as death-related. However, as I hope you can see now, it’s a far broader topic than just being about death. And, if you really think about it, grief is everywhere. Most people you encounter in your daily life have lost someone or something; they grieve something or someone. Whether there is a relationship they wish would be/could’ve been different, better, or more, or grieve the loss of hopes, dreams, and expectations for the relationship – these things cause dis-ease in our hearts. It’s often, not until it’s one loss too many when we realize we’re not okay. And, you know what, that’s okay. The sad, angry, conflicting feelings all have value. Those feelings are your indicator that there is healing that needs to be done. And, when you’re ready…you know where to find me.

much love, victoria




P.S. On June 30th, 2020, my podcast Grieving Voices launched! So far, I’ve shared eight educational episodes, and very soon, I will be sharing conversations with other grievers. Be a fly on the wall of our conversation, as grievers give voice to their losses, what they wish would have been there for them, how they wish others would have responded or said – all with the goal of educating all of us on how to better support grievers. And, in doing so, bring normalcy to what we experience in grief. It’s time we talk about grief like we talk about the weather!

P.P.S. Monday, August 31st is National Overdose Awareness Day. If you, or someone you know, is struggling with substance abuse, check out the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website. Their National Helpline Number is: 1-800-662-HELP (4357) 

*Portions of this post are adapted from The Grief Recovery Institute Blog


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