"I want to answer a question from Susan about getting professional help and long-term grieving. Susan wrote:
'I just found this website. How do you know if you need professional assistance to cope with your grief/guilt? Is it normal to feel guilty over the death of a child 11 years ago?
"First, I would like to thank you, Susan, for writing in. It appears to that either you or someone you know closely has experienced the death of a child. I cannot tell what age the child was, but the journey has obviously been difficult over the past 11 years.
"In response to your first questions there are various signs that a person may need help with his/her mourning:
- if things do not seem to be going they way they should and the person begins to feel “stuck” in his/her grieving;
- if the grief reactions from one loss are delayed and then appear with a vengeance after another loss;
- if the grief reactions seem to be exaggerated (substantial guilt, thoughts of suicide, extreme hopelessness, prolonged depression or anxiety, uncontrolled rage, substance abuse, etc.);
- if there are physical and/or behavioral problems, but no medical basis for the symptoms.
"From your letter it seems as if you, or someone you are writing about, meet a couple of those criteria. First, you are actually questioning if it is normal to grieve for 11 years. To me, just asking the question indicates there is a concern about being 'stuck.'
"The second criteria that is met is that of time – the grieving (guilty feeling) has lasted for 11 years. This could be a cause for alarm, but I do have one caveat before I suggest professional help. What is the intensity and impact of the protracted mourning? For some people, the old adage of let go and move on seems to mean that at some point during the process, mourning for a deceased loved one is miraculously supposed to come to an end. I do not hold that position. I propose that it is normal for mourning the death of a loved one to never really stop. At the beginning, the grief may be very rough, sharp, overpowering, intense, etc.; but as the work of mourning progresses, the grief diminishes in intensity. We get to a point where we have re-built our lives and can once again fully function. Put another way, our initial grief might have been as big as a mountain and now as small as a grain of sand, but it is still present. Do we really quit missing that person? I seriously doubt it. That person was an important part of our lives and impacted us forever in various ways. How can we but help to continue remembering, loving, and missing our loved one! So, Susan, if the intensity of the grief/guilt for this lost child is still strong and adversely affecting your/the other person's life (which it probably is or else you would not be writing in), it is time to seek some professional help.
"If you need assistance in finding a qualified counselor/therapist, I would invite you to go to the website for the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC). The site has a list of individuals who have earned a Certification in Thanatology or a Fellow in Thanatology. If one is in your local area, you can rest assured that he/she has demonstrated the requisite knowledge and experience to provide the necessary assistance that you or the other person needs."