Have you ever thought one thing and then found out it was completely wrong? It’s safe to say this has happened to everyone. We often get our understanding of grief from other people, television, or even society, and sometimes, it’s not entirely accurate. So today, let’s remove the cobwebs from your understanding of grief and talk about a few myths.
Myth #1: Grief is a burden.
It’s hard to argue with your emotions, but in many cases, they don’t tell you the full story. While grief may feel like a burden when you’re going through it, the emotions you’re feeling are actually healthy and a good sign.
Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor, author, and educator, puts it this way: “Love and grief are two sides of the same precious coin. One does not – and cannot – exist without the other. People sometimes say that grief is the price we pay for the joy of having loved. This also means that grief is not a universal experience. Grief is predicated on our capacity to give and receive love. Some people choose not to love, and so, never grieve. If we allow ourselves the grace that comes with love, however, we must allow ourselves the grace that is required to mourn.”
So, grief is not a burden. It’s the natural result of having loved deeply and wholly – something we all seek and need to live full lives.
Myth #2: Grief goes away. / Time heals all wounds.
As nice as it would be to say that time will heal your wounds and that your grief will one day go away, it’s simply not true. But take heart! At the beginning of the grief journey, your grief feelings are front and center. However, as you do the work of grief and incorporate the loss into the story of your life, your feelings of grief will decrease in intensity.
Grieving isn’t about “getting over” the loss; it’s about finding a way to move forward. There will be moments, even years down the road, when tears will come to your eyes, and that’s okay. Your feelings of love for that person will never go away, so there will always be a part of you that misses them and grieves their absence.
Myth #3: Grief and mourning are the same thing.
Though both grief and mourning are associated with the death of a loved one, there’s a difference between them. Grief refers to your internal thoughts and feelings. Mourning, on the other hand, is a shared, social response to loss. In other words, we mourn by taking our internal grief and turning it into actions.
The funeral is an excellent example. At a funeral service, you come together with other mourners to offer support, share stories, mark the significance of a life, and find personalized ways to honor your loved one’s memory. As human beings, when we don’t find ways to outwardly express (mourn) what we feel on the inside (grief), complications can occur, often resulting in a longer period of intense grief. Finding a way to express what you feel is an important and necessary part of grieving well.
Myth #4: There’s a set time frame for grief.
You may have a well-meaning friend or family member who’s encouraging you to “get over it” because “enough time has passed.” In truth, there’s no set time frame for grief. It takes the time it takes. Ultimately, the journey toward reconciliation – learning how to move forward – often depends on the type of loss and the depth of the relationship.
As long as you are actively doing the work of grief – engaging with your emotions, talking through your loss, and finding ways to honor your loved one’s memory – you will find your way to reconciliation.
Myth #5: Grief is the same, regardless of the loss you experience.
In some ways, it’s easier to relate to someone who has gone through a similar loss, but to say that the grief is the same is untrue. Even if two women have each lost a husband, they are individual people with unique personalities and ways of coping. While both women lost a spouse, they will deal with the loss differently based on their unique personalities, their background, their support group, and even the type of relationship they shared with their spouse. When you take all of these factors into account, there is no way that grief can be the same from person to person even if the type of loss falls into the same category.
People may experience similar emotions – sadness, anger, relief, regret, guilt – but even the expression of these emotions varies from person to person. Every grief journey is individualized and should be handled with kindness and compassion.
Myth #6: Moving forward with your life means forgetting your loss.
While the ultimate goal of the grief journey is to find a way to move forward, this doesn’t mean you will forget about the person you love. They are forever a part of you, and you were shaped in some way by your relationship with them. Moving forward is about finding continued meaning and purpose in life following your loss.
Rest assured – learning to live again won’t make you forget your loved one. In fact, living through loss gives you an even greater appreciation for the time you shared and a desire to cherish the time you have left with living loved ones.
Myth #7: There are five stages of grief.
More than likely, you’ve heard of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s theory about the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This theory puts a nice tidy ribbon on a fairly complex human experience, but unfortunately, it’s been taken wildly out of context. Kubler-Ross’s research was focused on the grief stages that patients go through following a terminal diagnosis. Over time, her research on a very specific form of grief has been taken far beyond its original intention.
That said, grief isn’t quite so simple. Your emotions may be all over the place and come in no particular order. While it would be nice to have a formula for grief, it simply doesn’t exist. You feel what you feel when you feel it, and all you can do is work through it when it comes.
Myth #8: There’s a right way to grieve.
We’ve already established that every grief journey is different because every person and relationship is different. The same principle holds true for how you express your grief. For some, crying is the way to go. For others, it’s writing, walking, running, painting, or using a punching bag. There’s no “right” way to respond to loss. If you need to cry, cry. If you never cry, that’s okay, too. Simply find what helps you release the emotions you feel inside – whatever that looks like.
Also, though it may be a temptation, don’t try to “be strong” for those around you. There may be moments when you need to keep your emotions in check, but as soon as you can, find a safe place to release what you’re feeling and embrace it. Dr. Wolfelt tells us that, “You don’t get to go around or above your grief. You must go through it. And while you are going through it, you must express it if you are to reconcile yourself to it.” So, face what you feel and grieve in the way that is most beneficial for you.
Myth #9: It’s wrong to feel certain emotions after a loss.
Perhaps it’s an innate response, but there are certain emotions that you may feel an aversion to following a loss. Mainly, anger, guilt, regret, or relief. However, if you’ve felt these emotions, rest assured that you’re not alone, and these are completely normal reactions to loss.
You may feel angry that your loved one didn’t take better care of themselves. You may feel guilty about the final words you spoke to them. Regret may fill you because you didn’t call or visit more often. You may feel relieved because an illness or difficult relationship are over. Depending on your relationship to the person who has died, any of these are natural reactions to loss. So, don’t beat yourself up over what you feel. Take time to work through it and give yourself some grace for the journey.
Myth #10: Grief is reserved for the passing of a loved one.
While we most often associate grief with the death of a loved one, this is not always the case. You can feel grief about a variety of things. Loss of a relationship. Loss of a pet. The loss of independence, a home, a job, or your health. Each one of these situations – and so many more – can bring out feelings of grief and loss. And just as with the loss of a person, you must work through your emotions and find a way to move forward with meaning and purpose.
Well, that’s it! Did you learn something you didn’t know before? Hopefully, debunking these myths has given you a rounder and clearer vision of what grief is and why it’s such an important aspect of human nature. While grief is hard, it’s the clearest indicator that you loved someone or something deeply, and love is a beautiful thing.