Mourning and Memory: A Paradoxical Grief

The Huffington Post:

I once witnessed, up close and painfully, the grief of a man who had lost his wife of 50 years. A period of emotional disruption is normal in such circumstances, but this widower’s suffering just went on and on for years. The present was joyless for him, and the future was hopeless — non-existent, really. He seemed stuck in the past, among his memories of his departed wife and his yearning was agonizing to watch. This endless bereavement eventually took his life.

I didn’t know the clinical terminology at the time, but I’ve since learned that there is a name for such disordered mourning. It’s called complicated grief, and the abnormal traits (such as I’ve described) may be rooted in a paradox of memory. It appears that people who suffer from complicated grief have lost many of the rich and detailed memories of the past. They have only vague and general recollections of their lives — with one notable exception: They often have vivid memories of any event that included the deceased.

Harvard University psychological scientists Donald Robinaugh and Richard McNally have been exploring this cognitive paradox to see if it might shed light on the disabling symptoms of complicated grief.

The results, described in a forthcoming issue of the new journal Clinical Psychological Science, were provocative. Compared to those who were experiencing normal grief, those with complicated grief had clear defects of both memory and imagination.

Read the whole story: The Huffington Post

Wray Herbert is an author and award-winning journalist who writes two popular blogs for APS, We’re Only Human and Full Frontal Psychology.

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