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Most people grieve after a loved one dies, but if that grief doesn’t improve over time and causes impairments in everyday functioning, it might be a case of complicated bereavement. In this lesson, we will learn all about complicated bereavement from examples.

Introduction

Tom and Pam have been married for 26 years. They have a 23-year-old daughter named Lisa, whom they are very proud of.

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One day while preparing for work, Pam dies from a heart attack. Tom and Lisa were both very sad for the first few months after Pam’s death. Both Tom and Lisa cried every time something reminded them of Pam, had feelings of loneliness, and lost interest in activities that they once enjoyed. Tom’s mood improved over time. His sadness and loneliness gradually decreased.

After a few months, Tom was back to his old self.Lisa however did not do so well. Lisa’s feelings of loneliness and sadness increased significantly over the following months. Lisa avoided all things that reminded her of Pam, yet Lisa found herself unable to focus on anything except her mother’s death. Lisa felt as if her life lost all purpose the moment her mother died and feels emotionally numb. Even two years after her mother’s death, Lisa’s negative feelings seem to persist.

Lisa goes to see a psychologist, who diagnoses her with complicated bereavement, also referred to as complicated grief.

How does Complicated Bereavement Differ from Normal Bereavement?

If you have ever lost a loved one, you might be familiar with the many feelings that come along with it. There is no one way to grieve, and each person grieves differently.

For example, you might feel sad, lonely, guilt, anger, or abandonment. You might cry, avoid activities that remind you of the person that died, feel emotionally numb, or throw things. You might even hear the deceased person’s voice in your head. Your grief may last for a few days or a few months, but eventually you get better. The loneliness starts to fade, the anger goes away, you stop hearing the deceased person’s voice, your life continues.

You begin to smile and feel happiness. You accept that your loved one has died and you begin to move on from the grief. In the example above, Tom is going through normal grief.But for people with complicated bereavement, things don’t get better. In fact, things get worse over time.

The loneliness and sadness continues months or years after the person’s death. The sorrow is so intense that it interferes with the ability to function. You may have difficulty trusting other people and feel as if you are numb inside.

You may lose your sense of purpose and not know how to get it back. In the example above, Lisa is experiencing complicated bereavement.Other symptoms of complicated bereavement include an intense yearning for the person who died, trouble accepting that the person has died, being hyperfocused on things that remind you of the person that has died, trouble focusing on anything other than the deceased person’s death, having no sense of purpose, and feeling angry, easily irritated, or detached.Let’s look at an additional example of complicated bereavement.

Additional Example

Cary is a second grade teacher at a small elementary school. One afternoon shortly after recess, Cary’s mother called to inform her that Cary’s father had died as the result of a car accident. Cary took 3 months off from work to grieve and help her mother handle her father’s estate. Cary’s co-workers and students welcomed her back with a party in her honor, but Cary could not enjoy the party. Instead she spent most of the evening crying in the bathroom.

Though her job once gave her purpose, Cary no longer felt like her life or her work had any meaning. Whereas Cary used to be patient, she is now easily irritated by her students. Cary also avoids the local ice cream shop, movies, and listening to pianos because these things remind Cary of her father. At first, Cary’s supervisor thought that Cary’s behaviors would get better with time. However, a year after her father’s death, Cary seems to have gotten worse.

Her father’s death has become the primary focus of Cary’s life. Concerned, Cary’s supervisor sends her to see a psychologist. Cary’s psychologist diagnosis her with complicated bereavement.

Lesson Summary

Feelings of sadness and loneliness after a loved one has died is normal. However, if those feelings worsen over time and don’t go away, then it is a sign of complicated bereavement. Symptoms of complicated bereavement include being obsessed with things or places that remind you of the deceased, not focusing on anything other than the deceased person’s death, not having a sense of purpose, and feeling numb.

The main difference between normal bereavement and complicated bereavement is how long complicated bereavement lasts. Now you know all about complicated bereavement.

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