What is complicated grief?
Losing a loved one changes us and our lives forever. Grief puts a strain on normal life and it usually takes a long time to start to adapt to life without them. Even then there may be days where we feel like we did in the early days, this overwhelms us but we gradually learn to cope and bounce back.
When these intense emotions feel constant and continue for a long time grief can become complicated. We may feel stuck and find it difficult to work out what we need to do to cope. Some people cope by closing off from their feelings. Giving ourselves time to retreat can be a healthy way to adjust to changed circumstances but if this happens for an extended period it may lead people to withdraw from daily life and become isolated. Complicated grief can upset our lives by affecting our ability to carry out daily tasks, communicate, look after ourselves and this can lead to ill health.
What causes complicated grief?
One thing is sure, complicated grief isn’t a choice. It’s due to a combination of difficult circumstances which leave us unable to accept and come to terms with our loss.
Complicated grief happens when something stops the natural healing process from helping us to adjust to our changed world. This can include the circumstances of the loss, your relationship with your loved one, your personality, other losses at an early age, lack of support and mental health conditions can also make grief harder to cope with. But sometimes there is no obvious cause.
How do you know if you’re experiencing complicated grief?
The symptoms include:
- feeling extreme loneliness
- intense longing and constant thoughts of your loved one
- feeling that you could have done something to prevent your loss
- bitterness or anger about your loss
- problems trusting other people since your loss
- feeling that life has lost its meaning or that a part of you died with your loved one
- being unable to accept your loss, or to be able to imagine or adjust to life without your loved one
- feeling stuck in your grief with no relief from your pain – as though time stopped when you lost your loved one.
Grief has no timetable but if you feel unable to function or feel any joy six months to a year after your loss it might be time to seek help.
What can you do if you feel this way?
There are various things we can to help restore the natural healing process of grief. Our feelings aren’t constant so different things may be helpful at different times.
- If grief feels endless seek professional help from someone who understands complicated grief. They can help you to look at how you’ve reacted to your loss and help you to find ways to come to terms with your loss.
- Find a bereavement group – There may be one in your local community or at a local church.
- Write about your loss and grief or keep a grief diary. This can give you an outlet for your grief and if you’re finding something difficult to write about may help you identify conflicts between the way you’re thinking and the painful reality of what you’re having to deal with.
- Lean on family and friends for support
- Take the time you need to grieve.
- Take care of yourself – be kind to yourself.
- Try mindfulness – this may help you to manage intense emotions, process your grief and deal with your loss.
- Let your Doctor know how you’re feeling. If they know you’re finding it hard to cope they may be able to help you obtain more support.
In the UK The Blue Cross offers a pet bereavement support service. You can call them or contact them using the online form.
Remember, you’re never alone, your friends at the Ralph Site are all here for you.
There is a lot of information available to help people who are suffering complicated grief including books and articles, websites, support groups and therapists. A selection of these are listed below and there are many others.
If you would like to find a therapist to help you please find the regulatory body governing therapists where you are and search their register for a therapist with experience of helping people with complicated grief.
You can call and speak with them before you arrange an appointment and find out what their approach is, if they think they can help you and if you like the sound of them. If you don’t like a particular therapist or their approach try another, there are many types of therapy and you need to find the one that works best for you.
Books, articles and downloads
Living with complicated grief – Professor Craig A. White, Sheldon Press, 2013
The other side of complicated grief – Rhonda O’Neill
Scientific American – Shades of grief
Mindfulness for prolonged grief: a guide to healing after loss when depression, anxiety and anger won’t go away – Sameet M. Kumar