March 15th, 2013, by Russell Friedman

We’re indebted to psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe for the insightful research that led to the Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale. The now-famous scale details the 43 life events that are most liable to create feelings of grief, and in turn cause illness and other health-related problems. Although we use the word grief, rather than stress, we are in total accord with the list of grief-producing events.

Our only problem with the list is that it is comparative and as such, ranks losses in a hierarchy on a point system. Since we believe all loss is experienced at 100%—even though not all losses are equal—we choose to present the list in the same order as Holmes-Rahe created it; with the only difference being that we omit the listing of point totals for each loss.

We’d like to point out that not all of the life experiences on the list would logically be viewed as stressors or grief or loss events. Note that near the top of the list is “marriage.” While we all know that the wedding day can be stressful, and that marriage is not without problems, we also know it’s often referred to as one of the greatest days of our lives. Additionally, the list includes “change in financial state,” which is not limited to losing money, but includes the impact of a sudden windfall, like winning the lottery.

Our definition of Grief

Those two examples lead us to point out our definition of grief, which is:

“Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.” We believe all 43 events conform to that definition.

In addition to the life-events listed, we add a few more under the heading of “intangible,” for example: Loss of Trust, Loss of Approval, Loss of Safety, and Loss of Control of my body, among others.


You may be confused by the “happy” events that are on this list. They are happy yet they do bring a change in a familiar pattern and can have some amount of worry to them.

John W. James and Russell Friedman, founders of The Grief Recovery Institute® and authors of The Grief Recovery Handbook.

Over 40 life experiences you might have that cause grief


Grieving Events

Death of a spouse




Sexual difficulties

Change in financial state

Change in frequency of arguments  

Change in responsibilities at work

Outstanding personal achievement

Change in living conditions

Change in working hours or conditions

Change in recreation  

Change in number of family reunions

Change in eating habits  

Minor violation of law  

Loss of Control of my body


Death of a close family member /child                                                          Dismissal from work

Change in health of family member

Gain a new family member

Death of a close friend

Major mortgage

Child leaving home

Spouse starts or stops work

Revision of personal habits

Change in residence

Change in church activities

Minor mortgage or loan  


Loss of Trust     

Loss of Safety

Marital separation

Personal injury or illness

Marital reconciliation


Business readjustment

Change to different line of work

Foreclosure of mortgage or loan

Trouble with In-Laws

Change in schools

Change in social activities

Change in sleeping habits


Loss of Approval