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What Is Complicated Grief?

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The loss of a loved one is likely the single hardest experience we face in our lives. The grieving process can take days, weeks or even months to unfold, but gradually with time, acceptance is expected to occur.

When it stalls or persists, complicated grief may have developed. And, despite not being considered a clinical disorder, complicated grief is recognized as a serious condition that requires attention.

Below, we explore who is at risk, and the signs and symptoms of complicated grief.

But first, what is complicated grief?

According to the Center for Complicated Grief:

“Complicated Grief is a persistent form of intense grief in which maladaptive thoughts and dysfunctional behaviors are present with continued longing or yearning for the person who died.”

This may include avoiding people or places that hold reminders of the person who died, especially if the death was unexpected or untimely.

Risk Factors

According to studies, between 10 and 20% of people who lose a loved one will experience prolonged periods of bereavement.

However, some people are more at risk for developing complicated grief than others, including those who:

  • Lost more than one loved one within a short period of time.
  • Were highly dependent on the person who passed away.
  • Lost a loved one to suicide.
  • Are mourning the death of a child.
  • Witnessed the death, or suffered alongside the person who passed following a pervasive condition or disease.
  • Suffer from substance abuse.
  • Have an ongoing history of mental illness.

Complicated grief is likely to touch every family at some point or another. When a death occurs, be mindful of surviving family members as they mourn their loss.

Signs and Symptoms

It’s almost impossible to detect complicated grief within the first few months following a death, as different people follow different paths throughout the grieving process.

However, while the “normal” signs and symptoms of grief start to fade, those of complicated grief tend to linger. If the grief seems to intensify as more time passes, pay attention to these signs and symptoms:  

  • Having trouble carrying out normal activities.
  • Detaching from close friends and family members.
  • Withdrawing from social activities and interactions.
  • Experiencing guilt or blame.
  • Lacking trust in others.
  • Feeling life isn’t worth living anymore.
  • Longing or pining for the deceased.
  • Struggling to accept the death.
  • Worsening of pre-existing mental health conditions.
  • Refusing to leave home.
  • Underperforming at work.
  • Sleeping problems.

Complicated grief can affect you physically, mentally and emotionally. If you or someone you know is experiencing the above signs and symptoms, seek help from a trusted source. Without appropriate treatment, complications may ensue.


Everyone experiences grief differently, so it’s not clear how to prevent complicated grief. However, seeking support soon after a loss may help, especially for those at increased risk.

While there’s no right or wrong way to grieve the loss of a loved one, there are healthy ways to cope. These include:

  • Acknowledging your emotions.
  • Accepting that grief can trigger unexpected emotions, including anger.
  • Understanding that your grieving process will be unique to you.
  • Seeking support from the people you love and trust.
  • Supporting yourself emotionally by taking care of yourself physically.
  • Recognizing the difference between grief and depression.

Grieving the loss of a loved one is a slow process, but taking these actions is an important step in managing your feelings. 

Get the Grief Support You Need

As you navigate your grief journey, the caring staff at Busch Funeral and Crematory Services is here to offer you support any time or day. We encourage you to subscribe to our weekly grief support newsletter, A Journey Towards Healing. When you subscribe, you’ll receive weekly emails of encouragement across an entire year of your grief journey. Plus, you’ll get access to information about local grief support groups to help you heal. 

Subscribe to our grief support newsletter

Cathy Nichols
Cathy Nichols
Considers it an honor as a Certified Celebrant to listen to life stories, and then design and conduct meaningful tributes. Cathy also trains celebrants nationally, equipping them to share those legacies in ways that comfort and enlighten. Honorably serving Busch families since 2004.

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