Delayed Grief: Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Strategies to Help

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Grief is a natural reaction to loss and something that almost everyone must deal with at some time. It is usually referred to in the context of the death of a loved one, but we can also grieve the end of a relationship, loss of a friendship, career, or even tangible assets. For most people grief is a journey of emotions that gradually ease as they learn to live with their loss, however, in some circumstances delayed grief can occur, this is also referred to as unresolved or complicated grieving. Read on to find out more about delayed grieving, the signs and symptoms, who is most at risk, and what strategies can help. 

What is Complicated Grief?

For most people their grief journey begins when the loss occurs and consists of many different emotions that each person will experience uniquely. Our recent article on stages of grief may help you to understand the complexity and lack of uniformity of grieving. Some people may begin grieving before the loss has occurred, for example where the deceased had a long cancer battle or slow deterioration with Alzheimer’s. 

Delayed grieving on the other hand, is where the feelings and emotions are supressed or continue unresolved. This type of grief can become apparent weeks, months, or even years following the death.  Grieving is about acceptance and learning to live with the loss, ongoing unresolved grief means that the person suffering cannot move forward effectively. 

Human relationships are complicated, and grief affects each of us differently. Delayed grief may strike anyone, even those that have previously overcome another loss successfully, however, there are some risk factors where this unresolved grieving is more common:

  • Loss of a parent, child, or spouse
  • Sudden or unexpected death
  • Witnessing the death
  • Being reliant upon the person that has died
  • Multiple deaths in a short period 

Signs of Unresolved Grief 

To begin with the symptoms of delayed grieving may be like most people’s grief journey with an abundance of intense emotions. However, the primary difference is that overtime these feelings should subside as acceptance is reached, for a person with delayed grief the emotions will stay the same or even get worse over time. 

A person with unresolved grief may be obsessed with the deceased, constantly talking about them and what they would or should be doing. They may also be attached to their belongings or certain mementos. Conversely, an absolute refusal to discuss the deceased or acknowledge any reminders can also be a symptom. 

Intense feelings of anger and sadness, inability to sleep, and depression that result in lack of daily functioning is also a strong sign that someone is struggling to process their grief. Those with serious unresolved grief may struggle to perform basic tasks of daily living such as washing or eating. In the worse cases, there may be reckless behaviour and even the possibility of suicide attempts. 

Strategies To Cope with Delayed Grieving 

Unresolved grief is a serious concern for the mental and physical health and wellbeing of the person suffering, and as such needs to be addressed. With the correct support most people will be able to process their feelings and reach acceptance. As a funeral officiant and grief expert, Steve helps to support people at all stages of their grief journey and is a valuable resource of information of where to seek further help. He works closely with Joanne Goodwin-Worton at Seeds in Time, who provides bereavement support. 

Booking an appointing with a GP is a good starting point for anyone that may be suffering with unresolved grief. They will be able to refer onwards for an assessment of what type of counselling and support would be most suitable. A GP may also be able to prescribe medication if necessary to help reduce anxiety and improve sleep while awaiting talking therapies that can help to resolve the underlying issues. 

There are also some self-help strategies that may be of benefit including mindfulness and meditation that we discussed recently, as well as regular exercise, focusing on a new hobby, joining a support group, or talking with family and friends. It should be noted that for those suffering with serious symptoms these strategies may be useful following more targeted interventions. 

If you are in the midst of delayed grief with serious symptoms or concerned about someone else, it is important to seek support as quickly as possible. In an emergency call 999, there is support available for mental health emergencies. 

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