Complicated Grief
Getting Back to Life When Grief Won’t Heal

Complicated grief takes place when someone gets stuck in grief. They have difficulty moving beyond the pain of their loss. Getting Back to Life When Grief Won't Heal by Phyllis Kosminsky is an excellent book on the subject. Kosminsky suggests that as many as one out of three people who experience a close personal loss can find themselves unable to move into healing after loss.

“Is the Situation Hopeless?”
Kosminsky promises that the situation is not hopeless. She has worked with hundreds of people who felt they would never move beyond their pain. She knows that healing can be experienced even for those in difficult grief situations.

Some Causes of Complicated Grief

  • a difficult relationship with the person who died
  • having received abuse from the one who died
  • a high dependence on the person who died
  • memories of a traumatic death leading to post-traumatic stress
  • a long, stressful illness leading to death
  • multiple deaths in close proximity

Moving Through Grief
Kosminsky says, “Most people journeying through grief have a sense that although the terrain is difficult and frightening, at least they are moving through it, however slowly and erratically. What they’re experiencing is painful, but the nature and intensity of the pain changes from day to day. For people who get stuck, nothing seems to change. It’s as though the death happened yesterday. (p. 149-150)”

The goal is not to take away the pain for those who are stuck in grief, but to “uncomplicate” their grief—so they can move along the grief journey.

Road to Healing Complicated Grief
(Suggestions gleaned from Getting Back to Life When Grief Won't Heal)

  • be gentle with yourself or those who are stuck in grief
  • identify the cause of the complicated grief, what is causing the person to be stuck?
  • gently find ways to work through and heal from the specific cause
  • healthy bereavement is a coming to terms with the truth—the truth of what was, what happened, and what is now
  • to move forward the bereaved has to be willing to go through a range of emotions, reacting to the pain of the separation
  • allow space for the bereaved to be honest about the quality of their relationship with the deceased. Glossing over the reality of a difficult relationship will not help with healing.
  • after openly and honestly facing what was, find ways to healthfully let go of the past
  • the bereaved need people who can encourage and support them as they adjust to new roles and relationships
  • they need people who will listen without judgement
  • remember grief lasts longer than most people think it will, give yourself/the bereaved the gift of time
  • in the midst of dealing with the pain, make space for comforting stillness
  • incorporate practices that calm swirling thoughts
  • use creative outlets to tell your story
  • consider support groups or professional help

Kosminsky provides several chapters that delve into the specifics of the causes of complicated grief, as well as many helpful real life examples of people who have been stuck in grief and their recovery.

Return to Stages of Grief to learn more about the grief process.

Return to Bereavement books.

Read about Trauma Awareness and Healing.

Read other Articles on Grief.

Mary J Luquette worked through complicated grief by becoming a textile artist. Her story and beautiful quilts can be seen on this link.

Return from Complicated Grief to Journey-through-grief homepage