Last night I had a scary dream. I cannot recall the mechanics of it, just vague impressions and feeling anxious when I woke up. I haven’t had a bad or distressing dream in a long time. Maybe I was due for one.

I was thinking about something this morning, about my emotions being all over the place right now. I tried to think back to when I was very young, and how I coped with fear and loss then.

I realized that I have been translating and then transcribing those feelings into words for as long as I have memory. Writing was the way I coped. It was where I put sadness and feelings of fear.

Because when I was a child I never felt that, if I fell, there would be a soft place for me to land.

white petunias

I truly like to look at the glass as half full, and most of the time I manage to do that. Which I see as a true accomplishment toward happiness.

But losing Abi has dulled the joy I usually feel upon awakening each morning.

Grief has a way of alternately dulling and then sharpening every day normal feelings.

I can be going through my day, feeling peaceful and relatively happy. Until there is a sharp edge of memory that jolts me.

It is like running your finger over the smooth edges of the top of a jar. Suddenly your finger stings. When you look closely at the jar, you see there is a nick in the glass and your finger is bleeding.

In the case of grief, I see that blood as tears. Blood flows from a cut in your finger. Tears sometimes flow from a stab to your psyche.

zinnia

For some people, grief does not abate with time. It is called “complicated grief.”

We know that grief does not follow calendar years. It comes in drips and spurts no matter how long it has been since the loss. There are reminders. There is sadness.

But if that grief keeps moving onward into a deep dark hole from which you cannot escape, this is when grief becomes an illness.

Said a psychiatry professor at Columbia: “People who meet the criteria for complicated grief do not necessarily meet criteria for either depression or post-traumatic stress disorder,” says Katherine Shear, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. “If you didn’t have this disorder [in the DSM], then those people would not get treatment at all.”

Grief is as natural as breathing when you suffer a loss. You can’t escape grief.

Many doctors believe that complicated grief stems from adjustment disorder, which is when you show a long and intense response to a stressor.

purple petunias

Risk factors for CG/Complicated Grief:

Research suggests people are at more risk of developing CG after a loss if they have a history of child abuse, neglect, or child separation anxiety and insecure attachments, or if the loss occurred in a violent context.

CG doesn’t have any identified biological causes. Like depression, it may happen because of:

  • genetics
  • body chemistry
  • personality
  • your environment

Summing up, grief is our way of adapting to loss. It is natural; and if you didn’t grieve, that would be unnatural.

Don’t confuse normal grief with the more serious illnesses mentioned in this post. I simply added them for the sake of education.

As for myself, I already have PTSD and dissociation listed on my medical chart. I imagine grief exacerbates those conditions.

If your grief is prolonged and getting worse over time, you might consider seeking medical help.

Important Reading:

Grief, PTSD & Your Brain

Complicated Grief (Mayo Clinic)

Understanding PTSD

PTSD & Sleep

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26 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing all of the information about complicated grief and adjustment disorder. I have never heard of either of these two terms before. I really appreciate the amount of work you have put into researching this topic and for including the links for more information.

    1. I figure if I learn something I didn’t know about previously, then there must be lots of other people out there who dids’t know about it either. One thing I’ve always felt seriously about is that you should share what knowledge you have, in the hope of helping others.

  2. (Sorry for the double post. Good to be in the right day when commenting!)

    I think multitudes of people don’t adjust well in grief. Even TV shows now like to do portrayals of serious disorders people develop as a result of trauma, sadness etc. I don’t think failure to adapt in loss is uncommon and because life can be hard if not downright brutal …so many lose their way.

    I don’t personally know how people get through extreme grief without an interior spiritual life. If I were left only to think in terms of the here and now I would have serious doubts on my own ability to cope too. I know of few things in this life that could have brought me to my knees faster than my own recent loss. But, in the same token if I didn’t work to remind myself that a bigger picture remains regardless of my state of being … then I feel certain I would have been decimated long ago.

    I think we usually are a result of those who loved us or those who failed to love us. Children who never knew a safe harbour can hold very deeply to something that brings them to a safe harbour too.

    But then, I’m entirely certain its only one reason those pets came into our lives to begin with.

    1. My spirituality is not based on religion. I’ve felt this way since I was a young child. Loss is so different for everyone, in how we deal with it. How we adapt to it.

  3. Brenda, your further insight into grief and how varied it is should help a lot of people. I personally know it takes time and effort to deal with it and all the unexpected aspects that come up. Things that are nameless emotions that had never been encountered before and I found that all I could do was hang on and pray until that wave
    lessened.
    Though I would not chose that painful path it has taught me so much. My understanding and compassion are deeper and it has allowed me to connect at a different level with people.

    Regarding you writing a book….have you ever considered using a voice activated system? Computers, phones, etc. have them and not only would it be faster that using your hands, it would be a way around the pain. Food for thought.

    You and Charlie stay cool. My a/c was repaired yesterday, but it got to 90 degrees in here and I can tell today that it took a toll. The heat alone is one thing but adding our humidity is challenging. Getting up and out very early helps.

    1. Yes, I’ve thought of the voice activated systems. I know I would not be able to express myself if I’m not typing the words. I’ve been typing since I was in the fourth grade. And really, unless I knew someone was going to pay me for a book, I don’t want to write one. I’d rather write here.

  4. I did not grieve my daddy dying until several years after he was gone. One day I just needed to tell him how much he meant to me. But I could not. It hit me so hard. Leonard St.Cyr was the most humble father God could have given me. I never had to question his love, even though he never said those words. My grandma StCyr was the same sweet loving person. She gave so much of self, as I’m sure you know.
    Warm Regards and love to you cousin!

  5. My cousin lost her son in a car accident. I really don’t know how she has managed to face every day since. Yes, I do know–she has other children to live for, and she can’t let the loss of one stop her from her duty to the others, however devastated she is. I suppose that’s what keeps anybody going–duty to those still living.
    I think you should write a novel. You weave together some very artistic pieces here, and it could be therapeutic to put them into a story.
    (I don’t want to sound like I’m ordering you to write a novel, but just to say I believe you could do it, and do a good job.)

    1. I appreciate your saying that. But my necks, hands and arms are not in good shape. Electricity constantly running down from my neck just writing a blog and keeping up with it. I don’t think physically I could handle writing a novel.

  6. Hi Brenda ~ I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your sweet Abi. I know she was your special companion and the empty space she has left must feel so big. I hope you feel comforted and have the strength to find joy in each day. Sending a hug from Seattle… ~julie

    1. I will get there. But my world is pretty small in real life. My social life is online, per my preference. I prefer to live with pets. And losing one just about did me in. That’s life, you lose those you love. Doesn’t make it any easier to know that though.

  7. I too am an optimist Brenda and I think it just makes daily life much easier to handle. Continue to see the half glass full as opposed to empty. Your flowers are just so pretty; I enjoy seeing them. You and Charlie stay inside and keep cool thoughts.

    Carol and Molly

  8. It has been eight months since I lost my husband. He died in his sleep and I am just now able to sleep in the bed. Not a day goes by that I don’t cry for him. Time does make things more bearable, but it never takes away the feeling of loss. I feel so alone and only those who have felt this pain can truly understand. It is the most tremendous feeling of sadness that you can imagine. I know your pain, Brenda, and I understand….and I care.

    1. And I so appreciate that! If you would like to email me, we can commiserate together. My contact info is above at the very top.

      1. Brenda I’m so sorry u r still in pain. We depend on our precious pets for unconditional love and they give back ten fold. I lost my bella due to a car accident. Her left leg was shattered in 3 pieces and her left side was open was the skin gone. She was having difficulty breathing even with oxygen. I made the decision to let her cross the rainbow bridge. It was sudden, one day I had her and the next day I didn’t. I was plunged into deep grief. I would sit in my truck and not want to go inside the house because I knew it would be empty. It took ten months before I was ready for another dog. I said the only good thing to come of her death was that she was in heaven and that I could save another dog. It gives me comfort to know she is safe and happy there and is waiting on me. Grief is a process, it cannot be hurried or u skip steps to get it over with. U will come to terms with it in ur own time. Everyone is different, ur PTSD of course makes it worse. Ur mind says it’s just one more horrible thing to happen to u. U will see ur abi again and it will be a glorious day. She will run to u with her tail wagging!

  9. A very informative post, Brenda. Thank you for sharing! We lost my almost 16 year old granddaughter 6/21/13 due to a freak auto accident. The grief has been overwhelming, heart stopping, tears for days and more. It’s been 5 years now which seems impossible…maybe like 5 months. I’m much better now and I’m so grateful for that! You mentioned the cut due to the rough edges on the jar…I experienced what I call “electrical shocks”…when a memory or an event surfaced out of the blue, I felt like my body had had an electrical shock. Since I’m older and have experienced soooo much loss, I think one brings up all the others. I lost my buddy, my Shih Tzu, last year and it was another dive into grief and depression. I still miss him terribly but I’m doing better.

    They say that time heals all wounds…I disagree. I think time allows you to process the grief and deal with it ~ nothing heals it!

    Wishing you a sense of peace and comfort.
    Pat

    1. I agree. I don’t think anything heals the grief. I also agree that a loss brings up other losses from the past. How could it not?

    2. It’s been a month since my mother-in-law passed on June 7th. This morning my 95 year old father-in-law was unable to get dressed he was crying so much. Grief is hard to overcome, especially for someone so elderly. I had to remind him that mom is in a better place, free of pain finally. Life truly does go on, but so slow to heal.

      1. I think this is why many times, in terms of the elderly, that when one of a couple passes, the other isn’t very far behind. I don’t find comfort in “they are in a better place.” Some might, as we’re all different. I guess it depends on our personal views.

    3. Absolutely, Pat – time does NOT heal all wounds. I lost my oldest son almost 9 years ago. That is a wound (if you even want to call it that) that will NEVER heal. Do I deal with his loss better than I did in the beginning? Of course. But I will never be the same.

      Brenda, my father-in-law has the complicated grief you talked about. He lost his wife (my husband’s mother) many years ago, when me and my husband were just married 6 weeks. She was only 51 years old. She had cancer. To this day (and he is now 85 years old), he cannot deal with her passing in any way. He went downhill after her death and never recovered. Honestly, I’m surprised he’s still alive. He has many physical illnesses on top of his severe depression and has even said numerous times that he doesn’t want to live. I don’t know how his body keeps going.

      1. Wow, Melanie, I too am surprised he’s still alive. That’s so very sad. I think of the you with the loss of your son often, because I know how hard it must be to live with that. To lose a child.

      2. My oldest son passed away just five years ago and I agree with you that the sharp excruciating pain dulls but the wound never heals. And your heart is never the same. How can it be … there is an empty space that was filled by the love and presence of someone dear and special.

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