Thursday, October 1, 2009

The illness of "complicated grief"

Just read a NYT article about it, as it's being considered for inclusion as a defined mental disorder in the DSM. OK, need to get on with some things but quickly, here is a case study to think about, especially young people.

Complicated grief: prolonged grieving after a loss (death in the family) that robs the survivor of their ability to live or their genuine participation in life.

How to cure? First, you need to understand the challenge, about why it is such a real phenomenon, in the human biological, cultural and spiritual (Biblical) context.

Remember what I have explained that romantic love, per se, and the modern parent-child bond is a fraction of what it used to be. Let me explain. When humans lived hand to mouth in subsistance existence, every member of the family had to work for the daily food AND the only way families prospered was to build families with many children. So humans are biologically and spiritually programmed to want to be in stable marriages with lots of kids. Just because much of western society is now prosperous, this does not mean that all those thousands of years of biological and spiritual adaptation now changes.

Bible reference: Reread the short but very powerful passage where Jesus encounters a funeral procession, where a widow has lost her only son. I explained in previous blogs that this could well have meant death for the widow, as only a husband or a son could provide for her. This is one reason Jesus felt such pity for her and promptly raised her son from the dead and restored him to his mother.

Large families and obligations to feed many children are not the "burden" that modern free spirited people seem to think they are: they are a safety need, against too much grief, too much morbidity, too much dead end. Generations of women have emotionally survived the dead of a child, or a spouse, because one had to "keep going" for the rest of the family, and this indeed would bring them out of their deepest grief, even if nothing could of course ultimately heal it. The problem is that a person with complicated grief is not the sick person: the society that no longer has the entended support AND obligations that provide this safety net is the entity who is sick.

So I resist the idea that complicated grief is a person's individual burden; it is the result of society no longer supporting, as it did before, the large stable family AND the necessity of "keeping on or we all suffer" mentality, as both of those heal complicated grief. This is why the modern somewhat manufactured thought of giving the griever "a new purpose in life" (usually through a job or more education) has some merit, but it's a shadow of what actual real life in less prosperous but more populated/per family times offered, not a "new purpose" but continuity in the need to go on. Most families DID suffer the loss of a baby or child in the old days. That's one reason why previous generations did not have "complicated grief," they had reality, which is many families had four or more children, and often one was stillborn, died in infancy or during childbirth, or of illness or poverty at a young age. One suffers less when one is part of what is the normal life experience and with many in the family who are indeed still alive and who need you.

The second thing to think about is that in un-believing, weak faith, or totally God-less times, it is very hard for complicated grief people to move on if they do not at some point embrace with joy, not with sorrow, that their child is with God in heaven and would not come back even if he or she could. Faith is not a sugar pill: it is reality. People with complicated grief have often been robbed by society or in their individual upbringing of not only really believing in heaven, God and their child being their (or their spouse or loved one having hope of being there), but even those who do still believe have a lukewarm perception of the joy and bliss their loved one has in the eternal presence. You must understand that heaven is mind blowing beyond what anyone can imagine. Generations of grieving parents or spouses before were not making lame excuses when they comforted saying "He (or she) is in a better place." The old time believers understood that it is really, really, really, REALLY true. Understanding that reality is the ultimate survivor guilt and other symptom reliever. Again, it is not a sugar pill. It is acknowledgment that heaven, guaranteed for children, hoped for by believing adults, and even those who can only rely on God's mercy as they had rejected him in life, is a place that is so amazing and eternal that no one would want to come back regardless of how much they loved a person who is not there with them at that time.

So complicated grief is another illness of not the individual (though they are suffering the very real pain and symptoms.) It is the illness of society's destruction of large families and of mainstream genuine faith in the reality of God in each person's life and after life in eternity. It's like society has the illness but the complicated grief person is suffering all the symptoms.

I hope you have found this helpful.