Q: My husband had a massive heart attack 4 months ago and died a few days later. It was totally out of the blue and unexpected. We had plans for our future—so many dreams that will now never happen. I can’t see anything good to look forward to. I am going through the motions but I am so sad all the time. Will I always feel so horrible?
A: You are going through the grieving process. This is a normal human reaction with no ‘right’ way to go through it. In most cases, survivors are able to adjust somewhat and resume usual activities, experience joy and remember their loved one with positive emotions.
Sometimes, however, the grief lasts much longer and is much more disruptive. This is complicated grief. When normal grief will become complicated grief is unpredictable. Complicated grief is not related to how much you cared for your loved one or to how unexpected the death was. You are not being more loyal to your loved one by not moving on or enjoying life.
People experiencing complicated grief may not make meals for themselves or sleep in their own beds. They often do not go out anywhere because they do not want to go without their loved one. They lose friends and shut out family. They may experience symptoms such as intense yearning, longing, a persistent feeling of disbelief and a general emotional numbness. Complicated grief is like a wound that does not heal.
If you find yourself still feeling this profound sadness after the 6-month mark, I suggest that you seek some professional support. While there are some very helpful grief groups, individual work may be the best way to begin. You are not being unfaithful to your loved one if you allow yourself to feel happiness. Your loving memories will endure forever.