Recently while doing some research, I came across the term “Complicated Grief.” Of course this prompted me to wonder whether I suffered from “complicated grief,” after all it’s been almost five years since Aly, our teenage daughter died, and many days I still certainly suffer profound grief. But what is “complicated grief” and did I have it? Why was that term created, and how do they define it?
It’s true that not all grief is alike. When your beloved cat dies, you experience sadness, loss and, well, grief. When you suddenly or unexpectedly lose a job, you may experience grief feelings too. But both of these examples are clearly a different grief from when we lose a child, or a partner, sibling or parent before their time.
So who, exactly, experiences “complicated grief”? I plugged the term into my search browser and was rewarded with a plethora of answers….nearly 11 million answers in less than three seconds, to be exact. I scanned the search results and selected one near the top by Harvard Health Publications. According to The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, “During the first few months after a loss, many signs and symptoms of normal grief are the same as those of complicated grief. However, while normal grief symptoms gradually start to fade over a few months, those of complicated grief linger or get worse.” Harvard went on to say “….it can take intense forms that surprise a bereaved person, including forms that in other circumstances would be called a psychiatric disorder.” And, “But if it's been several months or more since your loss and your emotions remain so intense or debilitating that you have trouble going about your normal routine, talk to your health care provider.”
As a parent who has experienced what I call profound grief, I respectfully question the term “complicated grief.” And here is why.
When Aly died, I found myself in a fog of shock and horror so thick, I was completely blinded by it for the first three years. I cried daily, and wailed most nights. And only now, nearly five years later….not months, but years….has the fog of pain began to lift enough to allow me to start to assemble the jagged pieces of my life that is left in the wake of my broken heart. Was this abnormal? It didn’t seem so. After all, I was a mother who lost my child, not my goldfish. Yet the signs and symptoms listed by Harvard’s article clearly define me as having “complicated” grief.
I think back to my beloved maternal grandmother, a short, white-haired, bespectacled lady who had an ample bosom always ready for a warm hug. As a young mother, she not only lost an 8 month-old daughter but a short time later, while pregnant with her fifth child, she lost her young husband. Despite the agony of her sorrow in the face of widowhood with five small children, my dear sweet grandmother forged on. It would be terribly shallow to assume she did so unaffected, yet because of how we still view grief in today’s world, I’m almost certain my grandmother experienced the overwhelming anguish in near total silence, the shatter-my-world anguish that only another griever can understand. Yes, most likely in total silence. And most probably with a seemingly heartless smile on her trembling lips. And, I imagine, it was because true grief, noisy grief, was likely viewed as a “nervous breakdown,” a psychiatric disorder….a label that carried with it the threat of removing children from the home. She had to suffer in silence, for their very existence depended upon it.
Fast forward seventy years later, and people now openly discuss once-taboo subjects with so much more understanding and acceptance than ever. Except grief. Grief is still unspoken, it’s deep impact still in the dark ages. And, with any grief lasting longer than a few months being deemed a possible psychiatric issue, it’s no wonder why.
Friends, my grief is not complicated. It is profound and raw, but not complicated. My grief carriers with it signs and symptoms mirroring that of most people who have found themselves in the grips of profound loss. There is nothing complicated about it. Misunderstood? Yes. But complicated? In my mind it is painfully simple. My loved one isn’t here any longer. And for the rest of my days, I shall painfully miss her.
|Honorable Badge of Grief|
Profound grief….noisy grief….”complicated” grief is exactly why we are asking National Grief Awareness Day to be legally declared. Why we have created not our own awareness ribbon but an awareness badge….the Honorable Badge of Grief. Why we have created a radio talk show about grief. It’s simple and clear: the time has come to bring grief out of the dark. To help us all better understand it. To honor it instead of shunning it. Why? So the path of all future grievers will be better understood. So their emotions will be honored and handled with tender loving care and dignity, not shame of weakness. Or a psychiatric label for those grieving longer than three months.
Thanks to generations of misunderstandings about grief, and new labels applied to the old misunderstandings, the time for grief to come out of the dark ages…to be better understood and maybe even embraced….has finally arrived.