Complicated Grief: Beyond Normal Grief


Initially with a the death of a loved one, grief can completely consume your thoughts and every aspect of your life.  However, if your feelings of loss continue to remain debilitating  and do not improve as times passes, then you may be experiencing Complicated Grief, sometimes also know as Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder. With this disorder the feelings and emotions associated with grief prevent you from accepting your loss and resuming your own life.

Grief looks different to every person that goes through it.  Unique life experiences  color perceptions and shape coping skills.  Other stresses and past trauma can also influence how a person responds to a death.

Also the order and timing of the phases of grief may vary from person to person, there are four common areas that everyone passes through.



The Phases of Grief

  • Accepting the reality of your loss
  • Feeling the pain and emotions associated with your loss
  • Adjusting to a “new normal” without your loved one
  • Moving forward and having other relationships

If after a significant period of time you find yourself unable to move through any one or more of these stages, you may have Complicated Grief and you should seek treatment from a certified health care professional. Providers can help you to come to an acceptance of your loss and regain a sense of normalcy and peace in your future life.

It is important to remember that in the beginning months following a loss, that many of the signs of normal grief are similar or the same as Complicated Grief.  Over time, those symptoms should begin to fade.  In contrast, they will continue to linger and can even intensify in Complicated Grief . It is also important to note that grief episodes will occur as a normal part of the grieving process.  Triggers can bring back feelings of grief.  If these feelings do not abate over time, then they can be a symptom of Complicated Grief.

“Complicated grief is like being in an ongoing, heightened state of mourning

that keeps you from healing.”

These are the following signs and symptoms of Complicated Grief:

  • Intense sorrow and pain with the memory of the loved one
  • Constant focus on the death of the loved one with an inability to focus on other issues
  • Either extreme focus on or avoidance of reminders of the loved one
  • Intense and persistent longing or pining for the deceased
  • Inability to accept the death
  • Extreme emotional numbness or detachment from important relationship and life in general
  • Bitterness or ongoing anger about the loss
  • Hopelessness, a feeling that life holds no meaning or purpose
  • Irritability or easily agitated
  • Mistrustful of others
  • Inability to enjoy life or positive memories of your loved one

How do I know when to see a doctor?

If feelings of feel profound disbelief, hopelessness or intense yearning for your loved prevent you from functioning in daily life, or if intense grief doesn’t improve over time, then you should call your doctor.

Professional help may be of benefit to you if you have continued to suffer the following symptoms:

  • Have difficulty participating in normal routines of life
  • Withdraw from social activities or formerly valued relationships
  • Experience depression or deep sadness
  • Have thoughts of guilt or self-blame
  • Believe that you did something wrong or could have prevented the death
  • Have lost your sense of purpose in life
  • Feel life isn’t worth living without your loved one
  • Wish you had died along with your loved one

Of extreme importance, if you have thoughts of suicide:

Complicated Grief can bring on thoughts of suicide. If you or a loved one is thinking or talking about suicide, talk to someone you trust. If you think you or they may act on suicidal feelings, call 911 or your local emergency services number immediately. Alternatively, call a suicide hotline number. Trained counselors can be reached at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255)



National Cancer Institute: PDQ® Grief, Bereavement, and Coping With Loss. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified <03/06/2013>. Available at: Accessed <03/25/2015>.

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