What is Complicated Grief?

What is Complicated Grief?

Nov 29, 2018

Grieving, Center for Grief Loss & Transition

“We grieve because we have loved. Through our journey we can be healed.”

Death is a certainty in life that is hard to understand until you have experienced the loss of a loved one. Each year, more than 2.5 million people die in the United States. On average each of these people leave behind 1-5 close family, friends or acquaintances who are affected by their death. Grief, as explained by Dr. Katherine Shear, is a blend of yearning and sadness, along with thoughts, memories, and images of the deceased person. As we never stop feeling sad that loved ones are gone, or stop missing them, grief is permanent. Overtime, one learns how to integrate this grief with their day-to-day life and come to terms with the loss, reorienting to the world without their loved one in it.

Complicated grief (CG) affects about 7% of those experiencing grief after a loss. CG refers to the prolonged and intense feelings of grief that interferes with daily life months, years, and sometimes decades after a loved one is gone. Because of its longevity and consumption of a person’s life, CG can often be misinterpreted as depression. Dr. Shear explains the difference:

Bereaved people are sad because they miss a person they love, a person who added light, color, and warmth to their world. They feel like the light has been turned off and they are not sure how to turn it on again.  

Depressed people are sad because they see themselves and/or the world as fundamentally flawed, inadequate, or worthless. They feel like the world has no light, color, or warmth. There is no light to turn on.

There are numerous factors that put an individual at risk for developing complicated grief. The loss of a child, for example, significantly increases the risk of a complicated grief reaction, as does a loss that is sudden, traumatic, and/or violent. Each person experiences grief differently depending on key factors such as the relationship with the loved one, circumstances surrounding death, past experiences with loss, and present influences.

Molly Ruggles, PsyD, LP, Clinical Supervisor at FamilyMeans Center for Grief & Loss says, “the process of grieving and healing from a loss is so unique to the individual, the family culture and social context, the relationship with the person they lost, and many other factors.  Grief can be very isolating, particularly when the loss is of a child or a loss to suicide.  We know that people do better when they aren’t alone with their grief.  In cases where an individual does not have support, or does not have enough of or the right kind of support, therapy can be another way of accessing support and connection.  In cases of complicated grief, we know that therapy is an effective way to find some relief.”  In addition to connecting with others, taking good care of yourself, eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep all contribute to supporting the process of healing.

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing complicated grief after the loss of a loved one contact the Center for Grief & Loss and schedule an appointment with one of our experienced grief and trauma therapists by calling 651-641-0177 or visit griefloss.org or FamilyMeans.org.