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Complicated Grief

In an interview, food maven Paula Deen tells why she couldn’t leave her home for twenty years.

“I had a lot of sorrow. I was 19 when my mother died. I kept waiting to die after I buried her. I thought I would never see 40. I was very sad.”

TWENTY YEARS of staying in her house, expecting, and at times, hoping to die. She had babies, and family. But the dominating force in her life was the loss of her mother. This is a good example of Complicated Grief.

People often ask how long one mourns a loss. The answer is that it’s different for each person. But generally, after a year you should be on the road to recovery. By then most people have forged a new way of life, and are adjusting to it. If it goes longer than a year, it’s a good idea to get professional help. After two years, if you know someone who just can’t get over it, you should intervene. Drag them – kicking and screaming, if necessary – to see someone. Since Paula couldn’t leave the house, arrangements could have been made for a professional house call or two.

Oh, that seems mean. I’d be intruding. It’s her choice. I’m not a professional. I’d be sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong. I could never do anything like that. I wouldn’t know what to do. It’s not my place. I wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings.

These are just a few of the excuses people use for not stepping up to help.

Let’s look at the situation through the eyes of her young sons. Mom doesn’t help out at school lunches, come to practice or games or performances, parent teacher conferences, Church or Sunday School, walk you to school if you’re afraid, take you to movies, plan a birthday at the local pizza & game place, plan picnics in the park, take vacations, take you shopping for school shoes, hold your hand when you get your shots. Sure, your friends can come to your house, and she cooks great stuff. But you still have to answer the awkward question about why she never leaves. A question for which your young mind has no frame of reference, no answer. A question you yourself would love to have answered.

Deen admits she made her sons quit guitar lessons because she couldn’t travel the mile from home to get them there. A kid loves his mother, assumes this is just the way things are, and goes with it. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t regret the loss of music, or anything else, the rest of his life.

Living with a person suffering Complicated Grief is much like living with an addict or abuser. You don’t know anything else, so this is normal. You assume it’s like this for everybody.

When the next DSM comes out in a few years, it will list Complicated Grief. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) says there are similarities between Complicated Grief and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and both need professional management.

By definition, Complicated Grief is the inability to process grief and move forward, accepting the loss. Painful emotions are severe and last a long time. There is usually more than one loss, further complicating the recovery process. The sufferer cannot make necessary changes to a different life, cannot move on. There is extreme focus on the death, and constant reference to the lost.

Remember that Loss refers to anything life-defining: a person, a pet, a special talent, a career, financial security, home, physical being, safety, health.

As we know, mental, emotional and spiritual problems always have physical components. Complicated Grief can cause high blood pressure and other heart problems (a broken heart is real!), increased agitation, easily startled, anxiety, sleep disorders, and increase the risk of cancer. It may also be accompanied by abuse of drugs, alcohol, nicotine, food, or a combination of any of these. Daily living is impaired.

There is good news. Complicated Grief can be prevented by seeking support groups and counseling soon after a loss. Also look into what makes a person strong, or resilient, and work on that.

There is more good news. It’s curable. Space here doesn’t allow going into detail, but two things stand out. To overcome Complicated Grief, you must do something. Anything. Wishing and hoping it all goes away, or assuming time will heal, WON’T WORK. There is physical activity – yes, homework! - involved. Below you’ll see a link to an article that can help with The Tasks of Grief.

The second most important thing on the cures list? Laughter. LAUGHTER! Make a list of what used to amuse you, and go find it. Bring it home, order it for delivery. Get hold of that person that makes you laugh and spend as much time as possible with them. If they know they can help you this way, they’ll be more than willing to step up.

No one deserves to hurt this badly. Not you. Not the babies.

There is information on the internet to help you further understand this debilitating disorder. The recommendation here is Mayoclinic.com and the Harvard Family Health Guide. Look up Complicated Grief, and the article on Resilience.


Evidently, Deen did a lot of cooking with her sons. “It was how I showed them love” she said. And the cooking was therapeutic for her. “When I bellied up to the stove, my mind was occupied.”

After twenty years of hiding in the house, she became a nationally known food expert in a relatively short time. She operates food businesses with her sons. What happened to change things around? One might imagine that after her sons saw a bit more of the world, one lovingly told Mama to knock it off. Honestly, a gentle, simple Reality Check can save a person’s life. They stuck by her and supported her as she took her first tentative steps past the front door. They created a safe environment while she adapted to living amongst the living again.

Now that you’ve read this article, you are sworn in as a deputy. You can do what Paula Deen’s sons did. Or you can send any funny story, cartoon, book or movie to someone needing to smile. According to the Talmud, when you save a life, you save the world. You can do this. We can all do this. YES WE CAN!

Shalom.


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