A Grief So Deep It Won't Die

August 18, 2015

...Complicated or prolonged grief can assail anyone, but it is a particular problem for older adults, because they suffer so many losses—spouses, parents, siblings, friends.

It comes with bereavement,” said Dr. Katherine Shear, the psychiatrist who led the Columbia University study. “And the prevalence of important losses is so much greater in people over 65.”

In a review in The New England Journal of Medicine earlier this year, Dr. Shear listed several symptoms characteristic of complicated grief: intense longing or yearning, preoccupying thoughts and memories, and an inability to accept the loss and to imagine a future without the person who died. Often mourners with these symptoms are convinced that had they done something differently, they might have prevented the death. Severe and prolonged compared with typical reactions, complicated grief impairs the mourner’s ability to function. “Adapting to loss is as much a part of us as grief itself,” said Dr. Shear, who directs the Center for Complicated Grief at the Columbia University School of Social Work. With complicated grief, “something gets in the way of that adaptation,” she said. “Something impedes the course of healing.”