Grief Can Be Very Complicated Indeed
What are the two certainties in life: death and taxes, right? This isn’t about taxes, so it must be about death. We all experience death; some experience it early in life and some much later. Sometimes our experiences have more to do with pets, and sometimes they have more to do with people. Whatever the experience, grief follows death like winter follows autumn.
There is no set process for grief. It doesn’t follow a linear progression as has been previously believed. It’s entirely possible to skip stages, and cycle back and forth before you reach a point where you can consider your mourning period over. There is also no set time for grief. Some people get over the death of a beloved dog within weeks – usually aided by the arrival of a new puppy. Some people don’t ever get over their dogs. Some people grieve for their spouses for 20 years. Some people remarry within a year. And some people only start grieving years after a loved one’s death.
A short or delayed grieving period doesn’t mean that the affection or love felt was any less. Grief is different for everyone and that’s one of the first things that grief counselors learn.
When Grief Gets Complicated
By and large, people don’t like seeking help for grief. There is this perception that because it’s a natural reaction to a terrible situation you should be able to get over it on your own. Consulting a grief counselor can seem like a very serious admission of inadequacy. Being pitied because someone you loved past away is bad enough, but it’s compounded when you need a counselor to help you get over your grief while those around you battle gamely on.
This reticence to get help tends to make the problem that much worse and it’s only when things get really dire that outside assistance is sought. That’s why grief counselors often have to deal with extreme cases of grief, which manifests as complicated grief or major depression.
Complicated grief is actually a psychological term that refers to grief so intense and unremitting that you can’t go back to you normal life. When grief turns to major depression it includes unshakeable guilt, auditory and visual hallucinations, and suicidal ideation.
Grief counselors are trained to tell the difference between normal grief (which should be in inverted commas), complicated grief and major depression. In the first two cases, therapy should do the trick. In the case of major depression, however, it might be necessary to bring in a psychiatrist who can properly diagnose the condition and prescribe appropriate antidepressants and, if necessary, mood stabilizers.
Perhaps the most important (and most difficult) thing to realise is that there is not such thing as ‘getting over it’. Dr Mary C Lamia wrote an article for Psychology Today in which she very clearly states that grief isn’t something to get over. It does diminish and you do learn to live with it, but we need to get over the idea that we can get over grief.
Sandy writes on behalf of Now Learning, which promotes business short courses and counselling diplomas online (nowlearning.com) in Australia.