Diagnosis of Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder Changed My Grief



  • I was next to my grandfather’s bedside when he died.
  • I was 17 at the time and had never experienced a loss of such magnitude.
  • My therapist eventually gave me a diagnosis of persistent complex bereavement disorder.

I remember exactly where I was when my grandfather died: right by his bedside, my head on his stomach as he took his last breaths. That day was the worst day of my life and still is even five years later.

Before his death, I had never experienced such a profound loss. His wake and funeral were my first ones ever, and it was difficult for my 17-year-old brain to comprehend that this parentlike figure who’d lived with me for my entire life was now gone.

I cried every day for almost 2 years

I was very sad and spent the next few months in shock that my grandfather was dead. I cried for hours on end, almost to the point of vomiting, and couldn’t come into contact with elderly people without breaking down.

For a while I chalked it up to going through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But nearly two years later I was still crying every day and expressing intense feelings of sadness over his loss. I didn’t really see this as problematic, but people around me seemed to be concerned.

They were confused about how I was still viscerally upset, and I was met with unsolicited comments about my grieving process. People would say things like “He wouldn’t want to see you like this” or “It’s been five years — when are you going to let it go?”

I thought something was wrong with me because I wasn’t able to “move on.”

I finally got a diagnosis

I spent years in therapy trying to process the loss, and my therapist gave me a diagnosis of persistent complex bereavement disorder. I finally felt a sense of relief knowing why my grief was so gut-wrenching and persistent.

Symptoms of persistent complex bereavement disorder include depression, longing for the deceased, intense sorrow that doesn’t improve over time, and a desire to join the deceased. People with this condition experience no relief or very little relief in their symptoms regardless of how much time has passed.

That’s exactly how I felt. From the day he died in 2017 to today, my grief has essentially remained at the same level of intensity. Granted, I don’t throw up every day anymore, but there isn’t a day where I don’t think about or cry over the loss of my grandpa.

Now that I have this diagnosis, I no longer feel “crazy” for grieving more than other people. To call it a diagnosis is a bit weird because it’s pathologizing a normal human response, but I view it as a label that I can identify with and that has helped me become more comfortable with my grieving process. While it didn’t change how I grieve or how painful it is, it gave me peace of mind: I was experiencing such intense emotions for a reason, and I wasn’t just being “dramatic” or “too sensitive.”

It made me realize there’s nothing wrong with me for grieving. The grief I have is a testament to the love I will always have for my grandfather. Grief comes and goes, but everybody will experience it during their life.



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