Complicated Grief After the Loss of a Parent: Rekindling Hope in Comprehensive Treatment

It’s difficult to give a simple definition to “normal” or healthy grief. But there are certain clear signs that complicated grief has taken over and that a person is helpless in their distress. When that’s the case, it’s important to call on comprehensive clinical care as soon as possible to help them return to themselves and their life.

There is such a thing as healthy grief. After all, none of us can escape the experience of loss at different points in our lives. At best, we move through and with the grief and come out the other side. But sometimes, we get stuck in our grief, and this may be particularly true for people experiencing the loss of a parent.

Getting stuck might mean an obsession with the loss or not being willing to admit that it really happened. It might mean withdrawing from one’s former life and activities, falling short on normal self-care, developing anxiety. The possible symptoms and signs of persistent grief are as unique as the individuals who suffer.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with complicated grief after the loss of a parent, there is a light to be found at the end of the tunnel. You may not see it yet, but compassionate treatment specialists are ready to help you reshape your relationship with grief and loss.

Expected Grief Versus Complicated Grief After the Loss of a Parent

It’s hard to characterize “normal grief” because everyone’s experience is different, individually distressing. And it makes real sense for a person to experience a rough emotional process after losing a parent. We can certainly say that grief is a normal part of death and loss. And it’s possible to draw a flexible line between the kind of grief that is expected and the kind of grief that overcomes a person in a way that they cannot seem to move through.


  • Through the difficult experiences of grief, a person is able to process and accept their loss
  • Grief can be felt emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually
  • With time, the pain and weight of grief begin to lessen
  • Symptoms such as depression, withdrawal, altered appetite, altered sleep, difficulty concentrating, anger, guilt, and emptiness may be strong but tend to last for a limited number of weeks or months following a parent’s death
  • Often, the support of family and friends is enough to help someone grieve and heal with time

Complicated Grief

  • For at least six months after, a person is still unable to accept and process the loss of their parent
  • The persistent symptoms are similar to those of depression or PTSD and can leave a person unable to function in life
  • Greater risk of developing other mental health disorders, including substance use disorders
  • Sustained grief can have lasting mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual effects on a person
  • Family and other relationships can be negatively affected over time
  • Clinical intervention is necessary to help the person move forward

With complicated grief, it’s almost as if two lives are lost: the person who passed away and the person who can no longer live their life out of the depths of their grief. The pain can be devastating. And family and friends of the grieving survivor may be going through their own versions of grief and confusion around losing a person who is still here, physically speaking.

But this is not an irreversible road, no matter how hopeless it may appear. Complicated grief, or persistent complex bereavement disorder, is understood as a serious condition felt by as much as 20 percent of people who lose someone close to them. And comprehensive, structured treatment programs have developed to guide survivors back to their own lives.

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Why Is Treatment Necessary for Complicated Bereavement?

It can take someone a long time to finally access treatment for their persistent grief. For some people, the attachment is so strong that they don’t want to let go even with help. For some people, they need help even on the way to help. They don’t recognize the need or the fact that treatment is available. Or they don’t have the strength to even pick up the phone and reach out.

But clinical intervention for complicated grief may be the only way for your loved one to transform their suffering into living once again. Right away, with treatment, an individual has vastly expanded resources for support of different kinds. They now have access to the tools and the clinical assistance they need to develop resilience. This doesn’t mean that their grief is at an end. It means that their grief is beginning in a new way—a way that has a purpose and that will make way to a new way of living even after their significant loss.

Inpatient treatment, especially, is a place where clients can feel safe and supported enough not only to feel their complicated emotions but also to explore them. Proven complicated grief treatment is a program of at least 16 weeks with specialized phases for navigating loss and the intense psychological process that follows it. When everyday life is too much for someone suffering in grief, residential treatment allows them to focus only on their own healing. On the other side, resilience means that a person is prepared to truly experience the range of their emotions, including pain and heartache. They have the tools necessary to cope, dynamic harmony around their sense of self, and an ability to look toward the days ahead.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.