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Father died two years ago

Dear Alice,

Thanks very much for being here, for all us angst-ridden students of the world. My problem is that my father died two years ago from a heart attack that he suffered on his way to work. It was very difficult to comprehend his death. It seemed to be so unfair and arbitrary. I was angry. Very angry for a long period of time. I am over that now. I learned that anger is easier, more expedient to deal with than the nitty gritty of emotions.

While I was in England, the leader of the British opposition party died of a fatal heart attack. The news has devastated me. I keep thinking of the awful things that I went through when the same thing happened to me. Will I ever get over this?

Yours,

Bruised by loss

Dear Bruised by loss,

Will you ever get over your grief? Yes and no. For most people, the intensity of loss will subside as the days go on, but the reality is you will likely encounter things in your life that will remind you of your father and bring up your pain. This could be anything from the news about the British leader, to the anniversary of your father's birthday or of his death, to a person on the street that reminds you of your father. This is OK and it's very normal. As time goes on, your dad can become part of your every day in a new way, even though you will always miss his physical presence.

However, for some people, time doesn't ease the intensity of the loss of a loved one. In fact, in some cases, symptoms of grief actually increase over time, leading to an inability to move through grief and accept the death of a loved one. This is known as complicated grief, which is sometimes referred to as prolonged grief disorder or persistent complex bereavement disorder. 

Symptoms of complicated grief include:

  • Focusing on little else besides the death of a loved one
  • Intense feelings of pain and longing for the deceased
  • Isolating from others and withdrawing from social activities
  • Inability to enjoy life or carry out normal routines

Adapted from Mayo Clinic.

If you're having similar symptoms, speaking with a health care provider or mental health professional to talk about complicated grief may be useful.  There isn't a general consensus in the field as to how much time needs to pass for grief to be considered complicated, but many health professionals have a standard of diagnosing complicated grief if there is debilitating grief that affects everyday functions for a period of at least a year. 

It's unknown what causes complicated grief, but there are several risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing complicated grief after the passing of a loved one. These include unexpected deaths, a close relationship to the deceased (such as a parent or a child), a prior history of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other life stressors. Additionally, complicated grief is more likely to occur among those assigned female at birth of an older age. 

After receiving a diagnosis of complicated grief from your health care provider or mental health professional, there are several treatment options available, such as psychotherapy and medication. Complicated grief psychotherapy is similar to treatment for those with depression or PTSD and can be done in an individual or group setting. During a psychotherapy session, your provider may assist you with learning more about complicated grief and grief reactions, improving your coping skills, and exploring your emotions and thoughts to help you process the death of a loved one. 

While seeking help from medical professionals is always a good strategy, taking some time to incorporate some coping strategies may also be supportive to managing your grief. These include practicing stress management, taking care of yourself through physical activity, rest, and eating a balanced diet, or joining a support group with others who are in a similar situation as you. Combining both professional treatments and healthy coping skills will hopefully begin to help you alleviate feelings of intense anger and grief.

If you need to, at moments when you least expect it and the grief gets overwhelming, calling a good friend, family member, or a trusted professional to help you get through it. Hopefully, time will help ease the pain, but you may have moments you need some extra help. 

All the best, 

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Last updated Jul 12, 2022
Originally published May 01, 1994

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