Complicated Grief – Causes and Remedies

In the 21st century, we have been stripped off many of our traditions, rituals and religious believes. This often causes problem for the bereaved as they do not find enough resources to cope with grief and resolve naturally.

Recently, a lot supporting services have sprung up, marketing the notion that dealing with miseries needs counselling by professionals. While some are free, a lot of grief counseling services are setup to make money out of people’s misery.

Instead of enabling us to cope with grief ourselves, they often advice that grievers should share their story with a counsellor. Something like, in order to heal they must be spoken out and witnessed by grief-counselor.

Surprisingly, most commonly given advice by counsellors, like ‘say goodbye’, ‘look forward with your life’ or ‘leave the lost and dead behind’, have limited efficacy. This is because grievers often find it very painful to leave behind the memory of loved ones.

Keeping the memory alive at some corner of the mind seems to be more empowering to the griever as he or she prepares to fight the difficult times ahead without the loved one.

For most people the survival instinct is strong enough to enable themselves to heal wounds naturally with time. But there are some people who suffer from prolonged grief disorder, also referred to as complicated grief disorder. These individuals find it difficult to resolve grief naturally and are stuck in the same state for more than six months.

Complicated grief is typically associated with sudden, unexpected and traumatic death of loved one. When deaths are violent (e.g. homicide), unexpected (e.g. car accident) or untimely (e.g. the death of a child), people find it very difficult to accept the loss. They are not prepared for the loss and become preoccupied with the deceased.

When the person is very close or there is an excessive dependency in the relationship, the risk of complicated grief increases for the griever. For example, the loss of a young child causes unbearable pain for the mother since the bond is very deep.

Often parents pass away while their children are still young and dependent. In such cases the bereaved is not only emotionally attached but also dependent financially and in sense of security or well-being, which causes the sense of grief to be heightened.

Those who do not have enough support from family or friends are more vulnerable to complicated grief. Past events that caused major stress in life, history of depression, mental health issues, traumatic childhood experiences, such as abuse or neglect, can also make an individual susceptible to complicated grief.

In any developed society most people find the society to be benevolent and just. They inherently believe that they will get things according to what they are doing. They think that they are mostly in control of their life. Their good work will bring them positive outcome and life is mostly predictable.

But when they are faced with violent, sudden, or seemingly meaningless deaths; their core belief is shaken. Even some non-violent deaths, such as death due to cancer, where the patient goes through a long treatment and the doctors and the bereaved tries everything but fail to save from prolonged and painful death, the bereaved is left to wonder what more can be done.

The bereaved is then starts to question, if these unexpected deaths are preventable at all and if we are really in control of our lives. They think that if we are in control then why the deaths couldn’t be avoided despite all the effort. At this point the world seems unpredictable or unjust to the mourner. They search for the meaning behind such deaths and without the meaning, the bereaved often feels unsure about the point of going on with their own life.

When psychologist studied why some people cope with grief better than others, they found that in most cases people who are suffering from intense grief do not have enough coping resource to resolve their grief naturally.

Without appropriate measure, complicated grief may cause depression, anxiety, suicide, self-ignoring or self-harming activities, physical illness (such as high blood pressure), sleep disturbance, alcohol or substance abuse. But dealing with loss in a constructive way is often empowering and prepares the mourner to deal with the hard times ahead without the loved one.

In many case the bereaved are able to comfort themselves by enforcing their religious believes. In other case they keep memories of their loved ones alive by performing certain rituals or with active course of action. Doing something positive and proactive without just mourning certainly helps to keep the pain in check.

Individual can successfully cope with their grief by following one or more of the following constructive methods:

  1. Routinely performing a personal or private ritual,
  2. Fulfilling the wish of the deceased,
  3. Work for a charity (either by founding or participating),
  4. Completing something that was left unfinished,
  5. Pray to God.

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