What Is Complicated Grief?

Complicated grief is an intense and long-lasting form of grief that takes over a person’s life. It is natural to experience acute grief after someone close dies, but complicated grief is different. Complicated grief is a form of grief that takes hold of a person’s mind and won’t let go. People with complicated grief often say that they feel “stuck.” 

For most people, grief never completely goes away but recedes into the background. Over time, healing diminishes the pain of a loss. Thoughts and memories of loved ones are deeply interwoven in a person’s mind, defining their history and coloring their view of the world. Missing deceased loved ones may be an ongoing part of the lives of bereaved people, but it does not interrupt life unless a person is suffering from complicated grief. For people with complicated grief, grief dominates their life rather than receding into the background.

The term “complicated” refers to factors that interfere with the natural healing process. These factors might be related to characteristics of the bereaved person, to the nature of the relationship with the deceased person, the circumstances of the death, or to things that occurred after the death. People with complicated grief know their loved one is gone, but they still can’t believe it. They say that time is moving on but they are not. They often have strong feelings of yearning or longing for the person who died that don’t seem to lessen as time goes on. Thoughts, memories, or images of the deceased person frequently fill their mind, capturing their attention. They might have strong feelings of bitterness or anger related to the death. They find it hard to imagine that life without the deceased person has purpose or meaning. It can seem like joy and satisfaction are gone forever.

Stay in touch with the Center for Complicated Grief. Sign up for our newsletter to receive the latest news and updates.