As a clinical social worker and grief counselor, my clients have taught me a great deal about life, love, and loss over the past 18 years. Their experiences have also revealed many well-intentioned myths about grief and loss that continue to permeate our society.
Unfortunately, these misconceptions (and the pressure to adhere to them) often complicate our healing. So, let’s dispel some of these myths today!
There are MANY misconceptions, but I only have the time and word count to list (and you probably only have the patience read) a few.
Or, maybe 10:).
Without further ado, and in no particular order, I present to you….
The 10 (biggest) Myths About Grief
1.) Myth: Grief lasts for one year.
Reality: There is no timeframe on grief and mourning. Everyone progresses through grief at a different pace, and no two people experience it in the same way. So, it is helpful to practice patience with ourselves and our friends following a loss.
2.) Myth: Grief follows orderly and predictable stages.
Reality: This belief originated from the Stages of Death and Dying (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) developed by Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in the late 1960s. Her pioneering stages emerged as themes from research interviews with hospital patients who were dying of terminal illnesses.
Unfortunately, we've oversimplified her stages and often prescribe them in error to people mourning a loss. Today, most experts agree that while we may experience some of the same emotions described in the stages of death and dying (i.e., denial, anger, or depression), the grief process does not follow a predictable or orderly sequence.
3.) Myth: We only grieve after the death of a loved one.
Reality: Humans can experience grief after any loss event. Many non-death losses lead to grief including divorce, unemployment, infertility, physical or mental illness, military deployment, loss of a friendship/relationship, abuse/neglect, loss or normalcy...and much more.
4.) Myth: Everyone experiences grief in the same way.
Reality: Grief is unique. No two people experience it in the same way. While we share many common grief reactions following a loss, the way we process these emotions is different for everyone. And, what helps one person cope with their grief may not be the same for someone else.
5.) Myth: The goal of grief is to “get over it.”
Reality: A loss changes us forever. We cannot expect ourselves to “get over” or forget our grief. Instead, we can learn to mourn our losses and integrate them into our continued lives. This is the process of reconciliation.
6.) Myth: Grief and mourning are the same.
Reality: There is a distinction between the two. When applied, it can change the path of our healing. Grief (“deep sorrow”) refers to the internal thoughts, feelings, and reactions we experience following a loss. Mourning (“the act of sorrowing”) happens when we put our sorrow into action- moving our grief from the inside out. Simply put, grief is the pain we feel, and mourning is how we express that pain. The process of mourning is essential to our healing.
7.) Myth: It is best to avoid uncomfortable or unpleasant feelings of grief.
Reality: To reconcile and heal our grief, we must first provide ourselves the permission, time, space, and support necessary to feel the painful or unpleasant emotions of loss. To heal it, we must feel it. This begins the work of mourning.
8.) Myth: We should move through our grief as fast as possible.
Reality: Grief slows us down…on purpose. We must demonstrate patience with ourselves, so we don’t experience the entirety of grief’s pain too quickly. Just like recovery following a physical injury, if we push ourselves too hard or too fast as we process the emotional and spiritual wounds of grief, our healing will be delayed.
9.) Myth: Time heals all wounds.
Reality: While the passage of time may soften our wounds of grief, time alone does not heal us. If we choose to stuff our emotions deep inside or avoid our feelings, our wounds may be raw for a while. We heal when we use our time intentionally- to experience, process, and mourn our losses.
10.) Myth: Our grief will last forever, and we will never feel happiness again.
Reality: Loss takes a great deal from us. But, it does not permanently steal our ability to find and experience joy. If we do the hard work of mourning, our grief can eventually soften, lessening our pain. As our pain is mitigated, our hearts begin to slowly heal.
A heart in healing will invite moments of joy, love, laughter, and hope to seep into the places where pain and sorrow once burrowed deep. We are capable of feeling a mixture of loss and love, sorrow and joy, despair and hope…even on the same day. This is a normal part of being human, and it is central to reconciling our losses.
My dear readers, please accept this post as your permission to replace the myths of grief with a blend of truth, patience, and compassion the next time you hear them.
Once we set more realistic expectations for ourselves and others experiencing a loss, we can slowly begin the work of mending our grieving hearts.
This is my hope of healing for all those among us who are mourning.