There is little we dread more than losing a life partner who is often our most important source of comfort and support. They are people who share our achievements and our happiness. They soothe us and help us problem-solve when things are hard. We do the same for them. Life partners take care of each other in a special way. Their loss can trigger intense feelings of grief. About a million people lose a spouse or partner each year in the United States, and there are currently about 11 million widowed older adults in the country. Widowhood is often a lonely, very painful experience.
The death of a child may be the most difficult experience a person ever faces. Parents begin to care for a child as early as conception as they imagine what the child will be like. Taking good care of a child is often the most important thing in a parent’s life. A child’s death triggers feelings of care-giving failure. The loss of a child can sever a parent’s feeling of connection to the future and feel like losing a part of themselves. A bereaved couple may find themselves unable to support each other because they may grieve in different ways which can deprive them of the support they need from each other. This situation can cause stress in the relationship, adding to the pain of the loss.
Over 20% of us will lose a family member to suicide, and the grief we experience can be especially intense and difficult. When a loved one commits suicide, survivors almost always blame themselves and often feel abandoned or rejected by the person who died. They may have strong feelings of anger intermixed with regret and sadness. Unfortunately, suicide is not uncommon. More people now die of suicide than in car accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2010 there were 33,687 deaths from motor vehicle crashes and 38,364 suicides.
Researchers used to believe that all people moved through five specific stages of grief, in order. Today it’s accepted that different people follow different paths through the experiences of grieving:
• Accepting the reality of your loss
• Allowing yourself to experience the pain of your loss
• Adjusting to a new reality in which the deceased is no longer present
• Having other relationships
You may accomplish these in a different order or on a different timeline than another person. These differences are normal. For some people, feelings of loss are debilitating and don’t improve even after time passes. This is known as complicated grief. In complicated grief, painful emotions are so long lasting and severe that you have trouble accepting the loss and resuming your own life.
It’s not known specifically what causes complicated grief, researchers continue to learn more about these factors that may increase the risk of developing it:
• An unexpected or violent death
• Suicide of a loved one
• Lack of a support system or friendships
• Traumatic childhood experiences, such as abuse or neglect
• Childhood separation anxiety
• Close or dependent relationship to the deceased person
• Being unprepared for the death
• Lack of resilience or adaptability to life changes
Some factors that may help identify complicated grief include:
• Inability to trust others
• Emotional numbness or detachment from others
• A sense that life is now meaningless
• Belief that the future won’t be fulfilling
• Agitation or jumpiness
• Social withdrawal
These symptoms sometimes occur during the normal process of grieving. In complicated grief, however, they show no signs of improvement over time.
Complicated grief can affect you physically, mentally and socially. Without appropriate treatment, these complications can include depression, suicidal thoughts, risk of physical illness, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, difficulty with daily functioning, and addictive behaviors. It’s not known what causes complicated grief. As with many mental health disorders, it may involve an interaction between inherited traits, your environment, your body’s natural chemical makeup and your personality.
You may benefit from professional help if you:
• Can focus on little else but your loved one’s death
• Have persistent pining or longing for the deceased person
• Have thoughts of guilt or self-blame
• Believe that you did something wrong or could have prevented the death
• Feel as if life isn’t worth living
• Have lost your sense of purpose in life
• Wish you had died along with your loved one
At times, people with complicated grief may consider suicide. If you think you may act on suicidal feelings, call 911 or your local emergency services number right away.
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Bonnie Harken, Founder and CEO of Crossroads Programs for Women has spent the last 30 years assisting individuals begin their journey of healing. Look for upcoming programs at Crossroads Programs for Women in Pekin. Begin your journey of finding renewal, hope, joy, direction and passion. Each program is a blend of lectures, group discussion, and therapeutic exercises offering a healing curriculum. We explore the spiritual components of healing from a non-denominational Christian perspective. Why continue to struggle? Tomorrow does not have to be like today. We can help you. Visit http://www.crossroadsprogramsforwomen.com or call 1-800-348-0937.
This program offers 32 hours of intensive group therapy focusing on the following: Depression, anxiety, disordered eating, loneliness, fear, relationship issues, grief and loss, self-worth and self-esteem, recovery challenges and/or relapse which can cause despair in the lives of women who come to Crossroads for help. Our intensive outpatient programs offer practical tools for change as well as providing an individualized aftercare plan. With expert guidance and a supportive environment of women who share your struggles, you will begin to understand the “whys” and learn how to move beyond today with a new confidence to change your life. Call 800-348-0937 for more information or visit our website http://www.crossroadsprogramsforwomen.com.