It is important, before we begin to speak of loss and bereavement within the scope of counselling and psychotherapy, to acknowledge that loss is an inescapeable part of life, and that grief, or bereavement, is a natural, human process that takes place when the person is faced with the loss of something important to them. However, in some circumstances, for reasons beyond the person's full control, grief can become 'complicated' and in these cases sometimes professional, empathic support may be required in order to facilitate the natural process of grieving.
There are a number of circumstances where the experience of loss can become complicated, and the grieving process can become stuck. Here, the person may experience prolonged grief, or bodily symptoms such as pains, numbness, rashes, or general ill-health. Depression can also become part of complicated loss, as the person may find that, as time passes, they avoid doing more and more things likes socialising or enjoyable activities. Withdrawal is a natural part of the grieving process, but in depression such withdrawal becomes chronic, and this can lead to a severely reduced quality of life, leaving the person feeling isolated, alone, and without hope.
Some of the situations that can result in grief becoming stuck, include:
- Sudden death
- Violent death
- The death of an infant
- Miscarriage and stillbirth
- The death of a young child
- Anticipatory grief (eg. dementia, Parkinson's, or cancer)
- The death of a parent
- The death of a partner, or close friend
- The death of a much loved pet
- The loss of a house, or job
- The loss of a limb, or any other condition that reduces a persons' capacity or mobility
- The loss of ones' own identity, such as when faced with retirement, or redundancy
- The loss of one's normal way of life, due to medical illness, or any other life-change
All of the above, depending on the circumstance, can lead to complicated grief. Certain circumstances that can impact of a person's ability to naturally grief for any of the situations above, include:
- If the person's relationship to the deceased was complicated
- If the person grieving feels emotionally unsupported
- If the person grieving feels unable to speak about their grief to others
- If the person grieving feels their grief is taboo or unacceptable, for whatever reason.
- If the person grieving feels they don't (or didn't) have time, for whatever reason, to grieve.
In any of the above situations or circumstances, the loss process can become stuck, sometimes for years, even decades.