Complicated Bereavement

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Complicated Bereavement in Children and Youth: Stopping Anger and Defiance through Grief Mentoring


Complicated Bereavement in Children and Youth

Complicated Bereavement in Children and Youth

COMPLICATED BEREAVEMENT is what we experience when we are unable to complete our grief or mourning in order to let go of something which we have lost or a person who has been lost.

In my experience, most of the children, youth and young people who are consistently angry and needing my help, are unable to let go and grieve a loss or a system of losses. For example: a move triggered by a parent’s job transfer; moving to a new school and losing friends, coach, teacher, team; a tragic involvement in the death of someone where they hold guilt; a perceived injustice or unfair treatment; inability to forgive a betrayal; a divorce; a parent’s dating or remarriage, etc.

Complicated grief isn’t a clear-cut disorder. It’s not clear on exactly which signs and symptoms indicate a diagnosis of complicated grief. There are also many similarities between complicated grief and major depression, and researchers are working to clarify the key differences between these conditions. In some cases, clinical depression and complicated grief occur together.

Some factors that may help identify complicated grief include 3 or more of these for more than six months:

  1. Strong feelings of longing for the person, home, family or friends lost
  2. A hardened heart: bitterness, cynicism, resentment towards others
  3. Emotional numbness, dazed or detachment from others
  4. A sense that life is now empty, meaningless
  5. Belief that the future won’t be fulfilling; feeling lost or displaced
  6. Anger, agitation, irritation or jumpiness
  7. Social withdrawal, avoiding reminders of the loss

These symptoms sometimes occur during the normal process of grieving. In complicated grief, however, they show few signs of improvement over time and may even escalate.

There’s currently no consensus among mental health experts about how much time must pass, exactly, before complicated grief can be diagnosed. Some experts recommend diagnosing complicated grief when two or more months have passed without any improvement in symptoms, while others recommend waiting six or more months. While researchers continue to try to pin down a time frame for this diagnosis, their work is made challenging by the fact that grieving is a highly individual process.

Rather than looking at the exact time period, a parent needs to be concerned or a mental health provider is more likely to diagnose complicated grief based on:

  1. A lack of any improvement in symptoms over time
  2. A significant impact on the ability to function in daily life
  3. Feelings of anger and acting out anger long after a change or loss is resolved.
There are distinctions between Complicated Bereavement in Children and Oppositional Defiant Disorder even though the behaviors may appear to be the same.
I recommend that, when there is a child lost in Complicated Bereavement, you find a Grief Counselor who will companion you and your child into and through the adjustment process.

Call 214-636-5889 or email me at if you would like more help with kids who are not ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) but are stuck in anger, unable to let go and move past their losses.

*For a one-page free description on Companioning (if you can, purchase their book – “The Family Virtues Guide” for the complete description) see the Virtues Project website:

Columbia University offers a Complicated Grief Program. For more helpful information, you can find it on their website at

If you or your organization would benefit by my presentation: Complicated Bereavement in Children and Youth: Stopping Anger and Defiance through Grief Mentoring, please contact me at 214-636-5889 or