Myths about Grief

Grief Myth #1: I have to "go it alone" to avoid upsetting other people.

Actually: We need other people to support us in our grief. It doesn't have to be a community of 50 friends, but 1, 2, or 3 caring and reliable people - with whom we can express our honest thoughts and feelings - can make all the difference in the world when the casseroles stop coming. 

 Grief Myth #2: There are Five Stages of Grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, and I'll experience these in a straight line and in a predictable way so I know where I am and my progress.

Actually, There's ZERO evidence that people move from Stage 1 through Stage 5 in a linear progression, that they only experience these five reactions to loss, or that somehow emotions are predictable. In fact, the opposite is true: the shape of grief is more like a roller-coaster with loops, spirals or waves; it includes not just emotions, but physical, cognitive, and other reactions, and grief-jags can catch anyone by surprise. That's what it's like. Not neat...tidy...and finished. 

 Grief Myth #3: It's better to keep very busy, find ways to avoid my painful emotions, and let time resolve the hole(s) left by my loss.

Actually, time doesn't heal all wounds. It's what we do with the time that either helps or hinders our adaption to the loss. To integrate a loss into who we are and will become takes attention, effort, patience, and some trial & error. It's a "reconstruction project" and, unfortunately, it doesn't come with step-by-step directions. 

Grief Myth #4: I only experience my grief on an emotional level.

Actually, however you'd describe yourself as a whole person are the aspects of you that will be affected by grief: body, mind and spirit; body, energy and mind; physical, emotional, cognitive, behavioral, social, spiritual. You pick, but grief touches all these parts of us to varying degrees, which is one of the reasons it can be exhausting and overwhelming. 

Grief Myth #5: In two or three months things will be back to normal and my grief will be resolved.

Actually, rebuilding who I am and my life after losing a part of who I who I was can take much longer than people think. In some ways it's a process more than a destination - and as far as returning to "normal," if that means who I was before the loss, that's impossible. There's no way to unlearn an experience. Who I am and who I become are going to be different, new and unfamiliar, but this is how it goes.  

Grief Myth #6: If you are talking with someone who is grieving and you don't know what to say, offer a cliche' - e.g. your husband/wife/child etc is in a better place; it was his time to go, your child died because God wanted another angel; or it's a blessing-God needs him/her more than you do.

Actually, these are all ridiculous or nearly ridiculous things to say unless you truly know a bereaved person believes these words. If you say anything, make it genuine, compassionate and reassuring that the person who died won't be forgotten. 

Grief Myth #7: After someone you love dies your relationship with them ends.

Actually, this also (see Grief Myth #6 Post) is kinda ridiculous. Of course my relationship ends in a physical presence sort of way because that is what it means to die. But, in terms of love, memory and how I live my life going forward - no way - they are always a part of who I am. Always there. How could it be otherwise?

Grief Myth #8: After my spouse has died, there's a "right time" to get rid of their clothes; a "right time" to sell their car; a "right time" to cancel their cell phone contract; and a "right time" to start to date.

Actually, there's no such thing as a "right time." Grief is personal, unique, and with no universal timeline. What we need is freedom to process, express, and integrate our loss - and because we're each different, our journey through time will be different. 

Grief Myth #9: When someone leaves or dies suddenly (suicide, murder, fatal car accident), it's the same as when loss is expected & gradual (cancer, ALS, Alzheimer's disease).

Actually, both types of loss have their complexities. Sudden loss can be fraught with unanswerable questions, what-ifs, and regrets related to conversations never had and no time to say good bye. On the other hand, navigating gradual loss has its own challenges as a death is anticipated. There can be an oscillation back and forth between life together and life without the one we love. Having time to prepare and adjust to an anticipated new reality does not mean anything is easy, or that emotions will be less intense, bewildering or time-limited.

Grief Myth #10: If you are an adult and your parent dies, it won't affect you very much.

Actually, age has very little to do with the intensity and trajectory of grief. The nature and closeness of the relationship, the circumstances surrounding the death, a person's personality, what this loss means to the bereaved, along with many other factors contribute to the "shape" of a person's grief. 

Grief Myth #11: Family members will always support each other when they share a loss.

Actually, and unfortunately, loss, especially a death, can bring out the worst in family members and, frankly, it can go either way - relationships can be strengthened but just a likely they can become estranged or destroyed. 

Grief Myth #12: There's something wrong with me if I feel that a part of me died when my loved one died.

Actually, there's nothing wrong about feeling this way, and on many levels it's true. Loss comes with many layers. We grieve not only for the person who died, but for the plans we had together and the dreams we shared. We lose so many "pieces" of our personal identity when we lose someone we love and with whom our lives were meaningfully interconnected. Some people describe their experience as "feeling like a part of them has been amputated." 

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