New York, NY – While Valentine's Day is a celebration of love for many, it can be a day of intense sadness, loneliness and pain for those who have lost loved ones.

 
“Grieving the death of a loved one is among the hardest things we ever do. Strong feelings of sadness and loneliness are almost universal, as are other painful feelings, like fear, anxiety guilt, resentment, anger, and shame. Experiencing any and/or all of these emotions is perfectly normal,” says Dr. Katherine Shear, the Marion E. Kenworthy Professor of Psychiatry at the Columbia University School of Social Work and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. “However, these feelings usually decrease over time as the person comes to terms with the loss.”
 
For some people, though, grief remains very intense and interferes with functioning. These people may find that they have strong feelings of yearning or longing for the person who died. They may be preoccupied with images or thoughts of this person; they may feel intensely lonely or find themselves ruminating about how or why the person died; they may avoid doing things they used to do, and distance themselves from family and friends. The experience of prolonged intense grief is called complicated grief.
 
When Stephanie Muldberg lost her son, Eric, to cancer in 2004 shortly after Valentine’s Day, she found that she could not buy a card or step into a card store for years after his death.  She felt a tremendous amount of guilt for living and felt “stuck” and unable to move forward with her loss. Last year, she participated in a complicated grief treatment program at Columbia University led by Dr. Shear. 
 
“About 10-15% of bereaved people develop complicated grief.  For individuals such as Stephanie, holidays like Valentine’s Day, when the rest of us are celebrating our love for those who are closest to us, can bring an upsurge of pain.”
 
“What had eventually helped me was learning to plan for the holiday and give myself time to think about what the holiday had been like before,” says Muldberg. “Although the holiday might not be the same, I could find ways to make new traditions.  By changing my thinking – knowing my son would want me to be happy – I’ll always have good memories of the holiday.” 
 
For more information about the complicated grief treatment research program, please contact Rachel Fox, at 212-851-2107 or by email at swcgte@columbia.edu.  For media inquiries, please contact Jeannie Hii at jy2223@columbia.edu or 212-851-2327.

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