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Feeling Blue? 8 Questions to Tell If Your Grief Is Normal or Complicated

During the first few years following my son's death I would have given a strong "yes" to the majority of the questions. Today I would answer "no" to all of them.
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Portrait of thoughtful woman
Portrait of thoughtful woman

Have you had a recent loss? If so, are you feeling blue and out-of-sorts? Do you sometimes feel like you are going crazy on a roller coaster of sadness and depression? Are you sleep-deprived and wondering if your grief is normal? If so, take the brief quiz below based on the "Complicated Grief" work of Dr. Katharine Shear.

Answer the questions with a "yes" or "no" keeping in mind that time is a major factor in response to loss. If your loss has happened less than six months ago your grief is not considered "Complicated." If it's six months or longer and your answer is a strong "yes" to the majority of the questions you could be suffering from "Complicated Grief" and may want to explore the issue more fully and possibly even seek professional help. As stated earlier, time is a major factor in grief recovery.

During the first few years following my son's death I would have given a strong "yes" to the majority of the questions. Today I would answer "no" to all of them.

Complicated Grief Self Assessment

1. Are you in a state of chronic mourning?

This is of interest to me as after my son's death nearly 30 years ago I was in a "state of chronic mourning" for several years.

2. Do you have persistent yearning?

Initially I yearned and searched for him. My desire to find him was so persistent that I actually had a stiff neck from looking at every blond-headed teenage boy who passed my way.

3. Do you have recurrent intrusive thoughts of the person who died or left you?

Early on intrusive thoughts are a given. Replaying what you could have done to change the outcome fills your world. I thought of Scott constantly and relived those last moments and tried to think of how I could have changed the events on the night of his automobile accident.

4. Do you have preoccupation with sorrow including ruminative thoughts?

In the early months and years I kept reviewing the events and the story of how he died. My thoughts today, thirty years later, are focused not of how he died but how he lived and the great kid he was.

5. Do you have excessive bitterness?

I don't think I ever had excessive bitterness but in working with bereaved people I have found that with extreme bitterness are caught in their grief narrative. If you are excessively angry or bitter seek out opportunities to explore your story, discuss it with others and look for individuals who can give you help and support.

6. Are you alienated from previous social relationships?

If you have cut yourself off from friends and family this can be a red flag that you might need professional help. Work, family, friends and possibly a religious community are often keys to giving you hope and getting you through the hard times.

7. Do you have difficulty accepting the death or loss?

Time is a huge factor in accepting loss. In the early stages you may wake up in the morning and feel that it was just a bad dream. Later you wish it was a bad dream, but in the end you have to accept the fact that they are not coming back and that nothing you can do or say will change the reality of the loss.

8. Are you feeling that life has lost its purpose?

You may feel like I did in those early days or months after a loss that there is no point to life and that you don't want to go on in such a cruel and heartless world, but over time the healing begins.

If you have answered the majority of these questions with a strong "yes." You may have Complicated Grief and I suggest that you reach out for support and further assessment. If your answers were in the mid-range you may benefit from trying some of the ways I coped following the death of my son.

Ideas For Coping With Grief
  • Develop a new interest - I started doing yoga.
  • Be Open to new friendships- I found that people I had never known were good grief support and became friends.
  • Get an animal - This is not for everyone, but we got a puppy which was a delight to our children and their friends.
  • Practice Good Sleep Habits - I am not a pill taker but I did take the occasional sleeping pill. There are some great tips on sleep on the Internet.
  • Cut down on alcohol and caffeine - I was highly agitated found that water was my best drink of choice.
  • Look for opportunities to tell your story - The pain will lessen as you share your story.
  • Journal or write a book - I had an anger journal where I kept note of hurtful comments. If I wrote them down I was less likely to harbor resentment.
  • Create a blog, website or memorial page - You never know what you will create and where it will go. From a blog Open to Hope has gone on to become the most visited grief website on the net today helping millions of people find hope after loss.
It is estimated that 10-20 percent of grieving people meet the criteria for Complicated Grief with older adults grieving the death of a child or a spouse having higher prevalence. Of course, complicated grief can also impact those who have had a divorce, loss of job or simply loss of self-esteem. The main thing is let others help you on this journey and if you have lost hope please lean on mine until your find your own. Life will get better!

God Bless,

Dr. Gloria