Grief is the complex, difficult, messy process of accepting a loss and learning how to live in a world that will be forever different because of that loss. Grief is always complicated; however, in medical terms, "complicated grief" refers to cases in which psychological issues interfere in the normal processes of grieving. Around 10-15% of bereaved people will experience complicated grief.
In normal grief, people gradually adjust to their loss and are able to move forward with their lives. In complicated grief, people experience debilitating sensations of loss that don’t improve as time passes. People suffering from complicated grief often ruminate about the circumstances of the death, worry about its consequences, or try, obsessively, to avoid reminders of their loss.
While anyone can experience complicated grief, the risks are higher for people who have lost a child or a life partner. Losing a child is one of life’s most difficult experiences, and parents who have lost a child are at increased risk of depression for up to a decade afterward.
The nature of the death also influences the risk of complicated grief. Deaths that are sudden or violent may be particularly difficult to accept. In particular, suicide is one of the most difficult forms of death for the bereaved to understand.
Since grief is such a complex and lengthy process, distinguishing complicated grief from normal grief can only occur after at least six months, if not longer. Complicated grief is characterized by an intense longing for or preoccupation with the deceased, accompanied by intense emotional pain. Emotions may include sadness, guilt, anger, denial, blame, and a difficulty accepting the death.
People in the grips of complicated grief may feel numb, or unable to experience positive emotions. They may withdraw from social activities and may take excessive steps to avoid reminders of their loss.
If you are experiencing prolonged grief that won’t let go, speak to your doctor. Therapy can help you move through complicated grief and come to terms with your loss.
Next time, we’ll offer some tips for coping with grief when you have kids. Please join us.