"The amount that you grieve is equal to the amount that you love" - Unknown.
Grief is a universal, normal human process that we must all experience.
I often tell these people, that the hardest thing about grief is that there's no way around it: the answer to starting to create meaning and finding our way forward is by simply moving through. This means that we need to extend ourselves some grace, compassion, and lower our expectations regarding how we think we "should" be feeling, and begin to understand that the grief process is unique and varies from individual to individual. No two people love the same way, and no two people grieve the same way, either. In particular, in the early days, weeks, and months after loss, emotions are raw, and thoughts are upsetting. Grievers frequently feel overwhelmed and worried about their grieving process. That's normal, and, in time, the intensity of the grief tends to even out.
In the case of complicated grief, however, things look a little bit different, and it's important to know how it is different from the grief most people experience after the death of a loved one. Though complicated grief accounts for 12-15% of cases overall, there is an inaccurate assumption that it's a situation that only arises from traumatic losses, or situations where grievers had an estranged or less harmonious attachment to the person that has died. In fact, complicated grief can arise as a result of any situation, including pregnancy loss.
So, what is complicated grief, and why is it different? According to The Center for Complicated Grief:
- Complicated grief is persistent. At a minimum, it begins to be noticed six months post-loss, but in my experience, it is more likely to be recognized after a year of mourning.
- Complicated grief is not integrated. In most cases of grief, the mourner learns how to adjust to the loss and integrate it into their life without the deceased loved one. In cases of babyloss, there is much meaning-making in the first year as a bereaved mother searches for reasons why the loss happened, how to adjust to a different life plan, and interact with friends, family, and coworkers. This is a challenging task and takes some time. In the case of complicated grief, the mourner feels that life and the future feel hopeless or bleak. For example, a babyloss mom may feel there is no meaning to her life after losing her baby, and feel hopeless and helpless about it. She may continue to long for her baby as time goes on, and even become preoccupied with thoughts and feelings about it that make it hard for her to perform daily tasks or relate to others.
- Complicated grief can be irrational. While many babyloss moms may feel guilt and blame themselves for their losses (despite it never being their fault), these thoughts and self-accusations do tend to ease up with time and support. Complicated grievers continue to blame and shame themselves for the circumstances of the loss, and can't stop thinking about these. They may argue with loved ones who attempt to comfort them and try to convince them that they are not responsible for the loss. As a result, relationships can be affected negatively as significant others feel they cannot help the griever.
- Complicated grief can involve dysfunctional behaviors. Grievers may increasingly isolate from family, friends, or other significant others, favoring time by themselves to daydream and attempt to avoid any reminders of the loss. In the case of babyloss, complicated grief may take the form of continuing to visit sites of scans and prenatal appointments to recall the excitement of pregnancy. Healthy behaviors such as eating regular meals, exercising, and other daily routines and rituals may be avoided or stopped altogether.
While it can seem frightening, complicated grief can be treated with assistance from a qualified therapist. The process does involve encouraging a patient to explore, instead of avoid, the more painful circumstances of the loss, so this form of therapy must be conducted in a supportive environment with a patient who is feeling ready to take on the work. This doesn't mean that there won't be times where the griever wants to avoid therapy, but, with the guidance of a therapist like those of us here at the Center for Growth, a grieving patient can be carefully guided through the process and begin to feel better about her grief.
If you think you might be experiencing complicated grief, don't hesitate to get in touch with us today. Therapy can, and will, help you feel better.