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Sometimes it feels as if your bereavement will never end. You feel as if you’d give anything to have the pain go away; to have the long lonely hours between nightfall and dawn pass without heartache. You are not the only grieving person who has longed for some measure of relief.
In the novel, My Sister’s Keeper, author Jodi Picoult wrote, “There should be a statute of limitations on grief. A rule book that says it is all right to wake up crying, but only for a month. That after 42 days you will no longer turn with your heart racing, certain you have heard her call out your name.”
No such rule book exists. Grief counselors and therapists tell us that the length of time it takes anyone to grieve the loss of someone they held dear to them is dependent on the situation, how attached you were to the deceased, how they died, your age and gender. So many variables exist and there’s absolutely no way to predict how long it will take for you to adapt to your loss.
Research findings have led experts to come up with many differing categories of grief experience ranging from normal to complicated. Normal (or uncomplicated) grief has no timeline and encompasses a range of feelings and behaviors common after loss such as bodily distress, guilt, hostility, preoccupation with the image of the deceased, and the inability to function as one had before the loss. All are normal and present us with profound – and seemingly endless – challenges. Yet, Katherine Walsh says, “Over the course of time, with average social support…most individuals will gradually experience a diminishment of these feelings, behaviors, and sensations.”
So, how can you know if your bereavement is no longer within the range of normal? Ms. Walsh goes on to say, “While there is no definitive time period by which this happens, if an individual or members of a family continue to experience distress intensely or for a prolonged period – or even unexpectedly years after a loss – they may benefit from treatment for complicated grief.”
There are certain tasks that when achieved during your bereavement, can successfully allow you to emerge on the other side of loss as a better, stronger, and more resilient individual. James Worden proposed these four tasks:
Instead of focusing on your bodily discomforts, feelings, and common behaviors, this model allows you to better see where you may be stuck or stalled in the adaptive process. Fortunately, Worden also gives us a list of indicators advising that "any one of these clues in and of itself may not be sufficient" for a diagnosis of complicated grief. "However," he continues, "any of these…should be taken seriously, and the diagnosis of complicated grief should be considered when they appear."
While grief educators and theorists tell us that a diagnosis of complicated grief should not even be attempted until after the first anniversary of the death, if any one of the following symptomatic clues exists for longer than six months, you may want to consider grief counseling or grief therapy:
There are many types of complicated grief; it can be delayed, masked, exaggerated, or chronic. Self-diagnosis is without purpose. A year after the death, if you feel your grief symptoms worsening, we advise that you seek a referral from your family physician for professional grief counseling or therapy.
Walsh, Katherine, Grief and Loss: Theories and Skills for the Helping Professions, 2nd Edition, 2012.
Worden, James, Grief Counseling & Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner, 4th Edition, 2009.