Coping with Grief and Loss – 3. When Grief does not Go Away

It is normal to feel sad, numb or angry following a loss.  However, as time passes, these emotions should become less intense as you accept the loss and start to move forward.  If you are not feeling better over time, or your grief is getting worse, it may be a sign that your grief has developed into a more serious problem.  The sadness of a major loss never goes away completely, but it should not remain central.  If the pain of the loss is so constant and severe that it keeps you from resuming your life, you may be suffering from ‘complicated grief.’

Prolonged grief

Grieving the death of a loved one takes a minimum of a year as you need to work through the anniversary of the loss and learn how to survive and hopefully manage the times, such as birthdays, holiday and Christmas, when the loss is felt particularly poignantly.  Even then there will be days, even years later, when waves of sadness come.  Usually these become less significant, easier to bear and quicker to pass as time passes by.  A similar journey is made if the loss is of employment.  In this situation reminders may come when meeting ex-colleagues either socially or in the course of new employment.

It may seem strange but loss due to divorce may be harder to cope with than loss due to death.  Death at least is final.  There is no going back.  All that remains are memories.  After divorce though, the one lost is still around.  They intrude into your life possibly bringing regret and a glimmer of hope that there may be a chance of healing the hurts and rekindling the relationship.  But are the feelings reciprocated?  The uncertainty hinders the progress of bereavement and the development of a new life with new relationships and new possibilities.  The intrusion may be distressing if there is still unresolved business about child access or the sharing of possessions.  Such dealings can go on for years so the emotional divorce baggage must be borne for possibly many years.

Complicated grief

Such prolonged grief is sometimes referred to as complicated grief while some reserve the latter phrase to describe the situation in which the sufferer is stuck in an intense state of mourning.  You may have trouble accepting the death, divorce, loss of job etc. long after it has occurred or be so preoccupied with the loss that it disrupts your daily routine and undermines your relationships and other aspects of your life.  Symptoms of complicated grief may include persistence, perhaps for many years, of intense yearning for the deceased, perhaps including the creation of a shrine, denial of the death or sense of disbelief, searching for the person in familiar places or avoiding things that remind you of your loved one, extreme anger or bitterness over the loss and feeling that life is empty or meaningless.  Sometimes this experience is a habit and a comfort zone so it is possible by determined self-discipline to change.  More usually, intensive support and counselling are required.  If you think you may be in this situation you should discuss this with your doctor or other mental health adviser.

Occasionally, the loss can be rejected right from the beginning so it is a ‘complicated grief’ before it has hardly started.  For example: Ken worked in the city for 20 years.  He was on the 07.49 train every morning and returned on the 18.08.  But then his company was taken over and he was made redundant.  He was hurt, embarrassed and lost.  He did not know what to do.  He could not really believe it had happened.  Each morning he left for the city on the 07.49 and returned on the 18.08.  He spent the day walking round the city or in the library or museum.  He lived off his redundancy pay.  Many months later he was becoming overweight and was dressing slovenly and his sister became suspicious.  She phoned him at the ‘office’ and then the truth was revealed.  At last he could be helped.

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