It’s hard enough to grieve in private, let alone with all the world watching you. This is how it must have felt to Whitney Houston’s daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown, who soon after her mother’s death, found herself a tabloid target and a reluctant participant in an ill-timed, ill-advised reality series about her family. Anyone who watched, “The Houstons: On Our Own,” could see that Bobbi Kristina was having a difficult time coping with her mother’s passing. Brown was clearly withdrawn and showed little interest in normal family or social activities. She appeared to be consumed by her grief and understandably depressed, often retreating to her room and to bed much of her time on camera.
Grieving is a normal part of life, and an expected reaction when one experiences a loss. But there is a point where prolonged, debilitating grief may require medical intervention. Doctors call this “complicated grief.” According to doctors at the Mayo Clinic, these are the signs and symptoms of complicated grief:
- Intense sorrow and pain at the thought of your loved one
- Focus on little else but your loved one’s death
- Extreme focus on reminders of the loved one or excessive avoidance of reminders
- Intense and persistent longing or pining for the deceased
- Problems accepting the death
- Numbness or detachment
- Bitterness about your loss
- Feeling that life holds no meaning or purpose
- Irritability or agitation
- Lack of trust in others
- Inability to enjoy life or think back on positive experiences with your loved one
No doubt, Brown was suffering from one or more of these symptoms as evidenced by her own comments during public interviews and in video clips. We don’t know whether Brown was under medical supervision or how closely the family monitored her condition or if they even recognized the need to do so. And of course, we don’t know if, like in her mother’s case, Brown’s family tried to get help for her, which she might have refused.
If suicide is the cause of a loved one’s death, grieving becomes even more pronounced. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults. In his research on suicide bereavement and complicated grief, Dr.Ilanit Tal Young notes:
Losing a loved to suicide is one is one of life’s most painful experiences. The feelings of loss, sadness, and loneliness experienced after any death of a loved one are often magnified in suicide survivors by feelings of quilt, confusion, rejection, shame, anger, and the effects of stigma and trauma. Furthermore, survivors of suicide loss are at higher risk of developing major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal behaviors, as well as a prolonged form of grief called complicated grief.
If left untreated, complicated grief can lead to tragedy. Complicated grief can often trigger thoughts or attempts at suicide. Surely, her deeply felt grief played a role in the tragic circumstance of Brown being found unresponsive in her bathtub recently. The fact that her circumstance is eerily similar to her mother’s makes it even more heartbreaking. If you are someone or know of someone who is grieving a loss and has considered suicide, hope and help are available from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255).
If you are a friend or family member of someone going through a difficult time of grieving don’t abandon them after the funeral is over or suggest that they get over it and move on with their life. Understand that everybody grieves at their own pace. The best thing you can do is to be there for them and watch out for any signs that they are be having a difficult time with grieving. Perhaps you can suggest a grief support group in their area and volunteer to go with them.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted. —Matthew 5:4