When a loved one dies, it is understandable that we feel grief. Our world has been turned upside down, nothing can prepare us for the emotions that will follow. It is a healthy and natural process to feel the loss, even though it hurts. After the initial period of mourning and withdrawal from usual activities, people may start to rebuild their lives by slowly returning to work or school, returning to social events, and taking care of everyday chores.
Grief becomes what psychologists’ terms as ‘complicated grief’ when there is a disruption to this natural mourning process, and we find ourselves unable to slowly bring focus back to other parts of our life. Complicated grief can involve a fixation on the person who has died which lasts for a long period of time, and which prevents the bereaved person from engaging in other meaningful activities or relationships. In this situation, daily life becomes difficult to navigate and basic functioning is a challenge. Although there is often an initial period of time after a loss where a person has this experience, complicated grief refers to when this period does not end.
Complicated grief is more likely to occur when there is a sudden, traumatic death such as an accident, murder, or suicide. Loss from ongoing disasters such as the pandemic, which also involved disruptions to funerals and usual methods of being supported through our mourning, can also cause complicated grief.
Symptoms Of Complicated Grief
It is important to remember that when someone close to us dies, we are likely to experience many of the symptoms listed below. Complicated grief refers to experiencing many of these symptoms all at once, and for a prolonged period of time.
- Feeling as though a part of you has died.
- A sense of disbelief that your loved one has died.
- Avoiding reminders that your loved one has died.
- An inability to move on with your life, socialise, pursue interests, or make plans.
- Emotional numbness and/or surges of strong emotion such as anger, bitterness.
- Feeling that life is meaningless.
- Extreme loneliness.
The following feelings and habits may also differentiate between grief and complicated grief.
- Leaving the deceased person’s belongings exactly as they were before they died,
- Finding it hard to trust people.
- Failing to remember happy and positive times with your loved one.
- Having suicidal thoughts.
Complicated grief in children and teens may manifest in anger, irritability, and tantrums, especially in younger children. They may become fearful that others may die or show intense sadness and emotional pain through different moods. Alternatively, they may withdraw and become very quiet, never mentioning the person who has died. In all these scenarios, it is important to regularly let children know that we are here to support them and to talk, whenever they might want to do so.
Treatment For Grief And Complicated Grief
There are many ways to seek support when you are experiencing grief or complicated grief. Proactively reaching out for support when you are grieving can help to reduce the chances of experiencing complicated grief down the line.
Some ways to seek support when grieving:
- Joining a bereavement support group can help anyone experiencing grief or complicated grief realise that they are not alone. Search online for a bereavement group in your area. If you are part of a community of faith, reach out and see what groups they may have available.
- Reaching out to other loved ones: Often we feel unable to ask for support from people who ae also grieving for the person who has died. In fact, we might feel guilty to show our own pain around these people, instead assuming that we should be supporting them. In this scenario, it can be helpful to reach out to someone who was not as close to the person who you have lost. They can support you by just being with you, listening to your memories of the person, or even doing an activity that serves as a relief or distraction from your pain for a short time.
- Find a psychologist: Working with an experienced therapist can help you come to terms with your loss, making sense of this new reality, helping to connect you back into your daily life once again and find meaning in other relationships and pursuits, at your own pace but with support and guidance.
Grief and complicated grief can overwhelm and knock you sideways, don’t struggle to deal with it on your own. We at Sydney City Psychology have empathetic, trained therapists to help navigate your way back into a meaningful and purposeful life, while always remembering and honouring your loved one in ways that matter to you.