... a bereavement-specific syndrome characterized by distressed yearning for the deceased, hopelessness about the future, waves of painful emotion, and preoccupation with memories of the deceased.The study found that people suffering from complicated grief -- compared with people experiencing more-typical grief -- are less able to remember events from the past (when the spouse or partner they are mourning was alive) and less able to imagine events in the future, but they showed no difficulty remembering past events or imagining future events that include the person they had lost. In a Science Daily article, the researchers said,
"Most striking to us was the ease with which individuals with complicated grief were able to imagine the future with the deceased relative [compared] to their difficulty imagining the future without the deceased ... They frequently imagined landmark life events -- such as the birth of their first child or a 50th wedding anniversary -- that had long since become impossible. Yet, this impossible future was more readily imagined than one that could, at that point, realistically occur."
The researchers suggest, as well, that deficits in memory and imagination might be connected to the aspect of grief involving "a sense of lost identity" (as in the 1993 study by Stephen Shuchter and Sidney Zisook, which found that 87% of the bereaved people studied felt that "a piece of me is missing").Importantly, the findings support the possible benefit of treatment for complicated grief including an emphasis on personal goals:
Setting goals can serve several purposes ... First ... establishing goals unrelated to the deceased is likely to increase the ability to retrieve memories unrelated to the deceased. In addition, the process of setting goals requires patients to imagine events that may occur in the future. In doing so, these patients will gain a series of positive future event simulations that may foster a sense of hope and build a stronger sense of identity.