Few things in life are as painful as the death of a loved one. Grief is both a universal and also a very personal response to loss that can dominate one’s emotional life for many months, frequently many years.

Grieving reactions vary considerably from person to person and from culture to culture. Grief is not a single emotion, but usually involves a wide range of intense emotions, including intense yearning, restlessness and a profound sense of emptiness. Things that were once important may not seem to matter anymore. If the death has occurred in traumatic circumstances additional traumatic-stress reactions are likely to be involved for the bereaved, including disbelief, horror and anger which make the feelings of intense grief even more difficult to bear.

It can take a significant amount of time to accept the reality of a death, but in most cases the anguish of acute grief is gradually transformed over time into a way of remembering and honouring the loved one that is less emotionally painful and disruptive to the survivor. Over time, the loved one can be remembered without being flooded with the pervasive heartache of acute grief.

Current thinking is that therapy should not be provided in cases of normal grieving, rather we should respect each individual’s way of coping with the loss and allow them to move forward in their own time and within the dictates of their particular culture, while providing support as wanted.

However, sometimes grief becomes complicated and bereaved survivors remain acutely distressed, finding it difficult to get through the day for years after the loss. This occurrence is known as Complicated Grief and can occur when death is from natural causes in older years, but is more common in the case of sudden, shocking loss of a loved one, for example:

  • Sudden death without warning
  • The death of one’s child
  • Death in horrific circumstances
  • Occasions when the body is not recovered
  • Multiple deaths
  • Suicide
  • Death due to violence
  • Death due to the fault of others, from carelessness or negligence
  • Deliberate homicide