Working Through Prolonged Grief

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“Life is like an onion; you peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.”
Carl Sandburg

Grieving is hard. Our life energy diminishes, we lose interest in many things, we hurt. Most people go through different phases of grieving and then slowly move past it, while others remain stuck for years. They experience prolonged grief. If you are caught in grief that doesn't end, you may find the following information helpful.

Grieving nature image

Prolonged grief disorder (PGD) is diagnosed when someone has long periods of grief and mourning after the death of a loved one. Someone suffering from PDG experiences deep emotional and physical discomfort.

It's characterized by intense sadness and other feelings such as anger, guilt, shame, and anxiety. People suffering from prolonged grief have difficulty adjusting back into their lives. They feel stuck and need help.

If you are struggling with prolonged grief, there is hope. At our Grief, Loss, and Difficult Emotions Retreats, hundreds of people have, with the help of a loving community, moved through their difficult feelings, and moved forward on their healing journey.

Our Retreats Can Help Your Prolonged Grief

We can get stuck in one of the stages of grief —such as denial, anger, depression, or just deep, unrelenting sadness—and have difficulty finding our way out. We may need additional help to move through prolonged grief and move on in our lives. Major losses can be overwhelming, and guidance from others can be invaluable in helping us move through our grief.

I have been leading Grief and Loss retreats for the past 25 years. At these events, people overcome stuck pain and take the first steps to find joy again.

Many who attend have experienced grief for longer than a year or are stuck and need to find ways to go forward. If the pain of grief continues for a very long time, there often are other feelings underneath the grief that needs to be acknowledged and worked through. Our retreats can help to identify these feelings and let them go.

We grieve because we've loved and lost who or what we've loved.

Very often, people come to the retreat because of a loss of a loved one, a life partner, a son or daughter, or a member of our immediate family. It can be a death, a divorce, or an estrangement.

Other times people attend because of an older loss or series of losses. Many of us carry the weight of childhood pain with us, in the form of a depressed mood and other symptoms. These losses weigh us down and keep us from connecting with present-moment joy and happiness. And, when unacknowledged, they can lead to depressed feelings.

Prolonged Grief Can Take Many Forms

Lack of energy (tiredness)
Lack of enthusiasm or enjoyment of life
Difficulty focusing
Difficulty sleeping
Weight loss
Inability to trust others
Emotional numbness
Feeling that life has lost meaning

While deep grief after the death of a loved one is normal, if it lasts many months and is accompanied by several of the above symptoms, a person can be stuck. Some therapists call this “Prolonged Grief Disorder,” for grief that lasts more than 6 months. Others use the term "Complicated grief."

Some activities that can be helpful for working through prolonged grief and that can be part of psychotherapy include:

  • Learning to meditate, especially mindfulness practices
  • Learning stress reduction and relaxation skills
  • Counseling that focuses on goal setting and problem solving
  • Counseling or retreats that help people work through anger, grief, anxiety, and other uncomfortable emotions
  • Rediscovering old activities that were once enjoyable and discovering new enjoyable activities
  • Eat a healthy diet and get enough sleep
  • Talk to someone you trust...friend, family member, etc.

Sometimes a particular process called "finishing" can be helpful. This is a dialogue facilitated by a therapist or retreat leader that helps you speak directly with the person with whom you are feeling your prolonged grief. Sometimes clients take the role of themselves and then the person whom they lost, and back again to go deeper than they have before to finally be able to say goodbye.

This, a form of psychodrama,  can be one of the activities that take place at our Grief and Loss retreats.

There are several pages on this site that can help with grief:

First Aid/Advice for people who are grief-stricken can be found here.

For more on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s Stages of Grief, go to Stages of Grief

Sometimes we just hide from grief and try to deflect it. I grew up in a family where it was not an acceptable feeling to have. Crying was criticized and mocked, and I met with “I’ll give you something to cry about!” etc. So I learned to avoid feeling my grief and I ended up pushing my grief underground, out of my awareness, and deep into my body. 

To read more about hiding from grief go to Handling Grief.

When there is a very recent loss, we may not be ready to do intensive grief work. We may just need to go through our grieving slowly, bit by bit. Grieving takes time. So give it sufficient time, give it sufficient space in your life.

But if you are frozen in your grief, or drowning in it, it can be time to get help. The loving community of others who have experienced deep grief can be valuable, 

Grieving isn’t easy and it’s hardly comfortable. This article may be helpful: Extreme Grief.

About Jon Terrell, M.A.

Jon smiling sept 2015 edit

Jon Terrell specializes in working with grief and other difficult emotions. He leads retreats on Grief and Loss about six times a year in Massachusetts and  once a year in Florida. Jon does not take insurance. For more information or if you have a question, contact him using the form below.

Go to Grief, Loss and Difficult Emotions Retreat

Go To Our Florida Grief Retreat Page

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Client Comments

'I went to the retreat to work through unresolved grief. The work is hard and sometimes gut wrenching, but the group and the process felt safe and made my experience rewarding.

Although I left  the retreat exhausted, I also left feeling a sense of release and accomplishment. Most importantly, I left with a new family of choice in some of the other participants.

thanks jon for a great experience. "

Jamie N, Florida, January, 2023