The first thing that comes to mind when someone says the word grief, we automatically assume that they have experienced the loss of a loved one. However, life teaches us that is not always the case. Unexpected twists and turns in our journey can turn our world upside down, and with that comes a complicated form of grief and healing.
Listening to the life experiences of people has taught me to rethink how grief is experienced in life. I once thought that grief was limited to experiencing the loss of a loved one. However, as I paid attention to different experiences involving chronic illness and moving frequently from one place to another. I learned how complicated grief can be a part of our lives without us even knowing it. Stop and think about a person who learns they are diagnosed with a chronic illness that will change how they live. Depending on the type of chronic illness, there are certain changes and the potential loss of independence, income, and dignity. Clients I have worked with have shared how they struggled with how they can no longer do things they used to do, what it means for their future, and their frustration with being treated differently because of not being able to do things they used to do.
Another way I have observed how complicated grief can be is in working with pre-teens and teens who have moved frequently due to their parent's job, and have felt angry along with a deep sadness that comes from having to say goodbye to friends followed by anxiety about being the new kid at school. While social media allows young people to keep in touch, there remains a feeling of uncertainty and loss in a time in which they crave a sense of stability in their ever changing world of adolescence. Working through complicated grief means coming to grips with just how much things have changed for you and your loved ones, and accepting the reality of what life now is. Whether it is the result of an illness or moving.
People struggling with complicated grief often run into trouble when their grief goes untreated, and they experience more severe depression and anxiety that is characterized by no longer doing your usual routines and withdraw from others because it feels overwhelming. Relationships usually suffer when people retreat within themselves. Feeling depressed and that you have lost your sense of purpose in life in any meaningful way, and where you stop taking care of yourself are signs that you need support from loved ones and the assistance from a professional.
Having someone to talk to about that grief with whom you feel safe with, can begin the healing process. You don't have to stay stuck in feeling helpless over how things have changed in your life. Working with a therapist can help people not just to learn how to accept and adapt to how their life has changed, but how to take the experience of their life and make it something they can live with and find a way to thrive. There are examples in life of how people with a lost limb can learn to adapt in using their prosthesis and become active again. People who experience complicated grief can benefit from working with a mental health professional in order to focus not on just what was, but on what is still possible.