Losing a loved one is one of the most painful experiences that people face, and maybe more so for a family caregiver. For most people, experiencing normal grief and bereavement brings with it a period of sorrow, numbness, and sometimes guilt and anger. Gradually, these feelings ease, and it becomes possible to accept the loss and move forward. But for some people, feelings of loss are debilitating and don’t improve, even as time passes. This is known as complicated grief (CG). When experiencing CG, emotions are so long and lasting that the caregiver has trouble recovering from the loss and resuming their everyday life. This is understandable, considering that being a caregiver often strengthens the bond between the caregiver and their loved one.
The Symptoms of Complicated Grief
During the first few months after the loss of the loved one, many of the symptoms and signs of normal grief are the same as those of CG. However, while normal grief symptoms gradually begin to fade over time, those of CG linger, and in some cases worsen. CG is like a constant, heightened state of mourning that keeps the caregiver from recovering.
Signs and symptoms of complicated grief may include:
- Intense pain, sorrow, and rumination over the loss of the loved one
- Focusing on little else but the loved one’s death
- Extreme focus on a reminder of the family member or the excessive avoidance of reminders
- Intense and persistent longing for the deceased
- Continuing difficulty accepting the death
- Bitterness over the loss of the loved one
- The feeling that life holds no meaning or purpose
- Lack of trust in others
- The inability to enjoy life or think back on positive experiences with the loved one
Indications of CG also may be present if the caregiver continues to:
- Have difficulty carrying out regular routines
- Isolate themselves from others and withdraw from social activities
- Experience depression, deep sadness, guilt or self-blame
- Believe they did something wrong or could have prevented the death
- Feel life isn’t worth living without their loved one
- Wish they had died along with their loved one
Working Through Complicated Grief
It’s not clear how to prevent CG, but getting counseling soon after the loss may help, especially for those at increased risk of developing CG. Additionally, caregivers providing end-of-life care for a loved one may benefit from counseling and support to help prepare for death and its emotional aftermath.
Talking about their grief and allowing themselves to cry can also help prevent the caregiver from getting stuck in their sadness. As painful as it is, they must begin to trust that their pain will begin to lift if they allow themselves to feel it.
Family members, friends, social support groups, and their faith community are all good options to help the caregiver work through their grief. They may be able to find a support group focused on a particular type of loss, such as the death of a spouse or parent. A physician may be able to recommend local resources.
Through early counseling after a loss, the caregiver can explore emotions surrounding the loss and learn healthy coping skills. This can help prevent negative thoughts and beliefs from gaining such a stronghold that they become difficult to overcome.
It is expected that 20% of bereaved caregivers will experience CG due to the loss of their loved one. This is a significant percentage of the caregiving population, making raising awareness about this very important.
Can We Help?
At Home Instead, our mission is lifting the spirits of those we serve by offering them dependable and affordable home care options. To learn more about Home Instead Senior Care or to schedule a FREE consultation for a senior in Naples, Fort Myers, Charlotte County, or the surrounding areas today, please visit us at www.homeinsteadswfl.com.