Health & Wellness

3 Stubborn Grief Myths We Need To Stop Believing

By Kathryn Rosenberg | Dec 5, 2019
Kathryn Rosenberg | ACHNET

For the past eight years, death and dying have been my bread and butter.

It makes me a really popular guest at dinner parties.

“So, what do you do?”

“I work as an education facilitator at a hospice.”

“Oh. (long pause). That must be pretty depressing. Ah look, they’ve just brought out those mini cheddar cheese savoury scones I love! It was nice chatting with you.”

You get used to this. People’s discomfort around death. It’s much the same when people ask me the question I used to dread the most in this world.

“Do you have any siblings?”

“Yes, I have a sister but she died a few years ago.”

“Oh. (awkward pause). So, are you going away this summer? We’ve booked a villa in Spain. It’s got the most amazing pool that overlooks the ocean and with 12 of us going it’s an absolute bargain!”

Believe me, I get it. I don’t hold any bad feeling towards people that change the subject.

Talking about death, dying, grief, and loss isn’t easy.

Most of us were raised in a society that makes it hard, uncomfortable, and awkward to talk about these things.

But see here’s the thing. When we don’t talk about it, when it’s hidden behind hospital curtains, when it’s not out in the open, it’s left for us to fear.

It’s left for us to speculate. To construct our own stories around death and grief that may or may not be true.

Many stubborn grief myths are floating around in society.

  • These grief myths are unhelpful at best and damaging at worst.
  • They can leave us feeling isolated, misunderstood, and alone.
  • They can leave us feeling like we’re going crazy or that what we’re feeling is somehow abnormal.
  • These grief myths can leave us feeling like we’re wandering around in the dark with no hope of ever finding the light.

    That’s not what I want for you.

    What I want is for you to know that you’re not alone and that whatever you’re feeling is completely normal.

    So I’m going to put the many scone stampedes and awkward silences to good use and share with you three of the most stubborn myths I’ve come across in my 15,000 odd hours working in this field.

    If you’re ready to do this then let’s start by kicking grief myth number one into touch!

    1) Grief Is Not Just About Death

    When we think of the word ‘grief’, chances are the next word that springs to our mind is death, right?

    The death of someone we loved or perhaps someone with whom we had a challenging relationship.

    But grief applies to so much more than that.

    Grief is a response to any loss deemed significant by you.

    It might be the death of a loved one or pet but it might also relate to any number of other losses.

  • The loss of your job
  • The loss of your home
  • The loss of a social circle
  • The loss of a relationship
  • The loss of a dream
  • The loss of the life you had planned out for yourself
  • Throughout our lives, we grieve the many losses we experience.

    What can make these losses even more painful is that our grief can often go unacknowledged by other people who may not deem what we are grieving to be something that warrants a grief response.

    But here’s the thing:

  • You are not nuts if you grieve being made redundant.
  • You are not crazy if you grieve the breakdown of a friendship.
  • You are not losing your marbles if you grieve ending a relationship you know wasn’t right for you.
  • All of these things are a loss. All of these things symbolise a change in your life. All of these things require a process of transition and adjustment.

    It is perfectly normal to grieve for something that you no longer have, regardless of whether or not that thing was right for you.

    Don’t ever feel you need to minimize what you’re going through.

    Give yourself the time and space you need to grieve and heal.

    2) You Will Not Just ‘Get Over’ It

    There is a very unhelpful line of thinking in Western society that goes something like this:

  • Someone dies or you experience some kind of other big loss.
  • You grieve in a period of time deemed appropriate by society in proportion to your loss.
  • You pop out the other side fully healed and ready to put it behind you and move on.
  • Which, by the way, serves society well, but you? Not so much.

    Here’s the thing:

    If you experience a major loss of someone or something important to you, you will not get over it.

    I hope that telling you that brings you a sense of relief.

    It has been almost 8 years since my sister Janine died and I have not gotten over it.

    But here’s what I have done:

  • I’ve learned to incorporate that loss into my life.
  • I’ve learned to grow my life around it.
  • ’ve learned to use it to make myself a better person.
  • But I haven’t got over it and I wouldn’t want to.

    And I wouldn’t want you to either.

    Why?

    Because grief is a sign that we’ve loved.

    Grief is a sign that something mattered deeply to us.

    That hole in your heart that grief has left you with?

    That’s where the light is going to shine through.

    That’s what’s going to make you stronger.

    That’s what’s going to help you become the person you were put on this earth to be.

    So you will not just get over it and move on but you can use what’s happened to drive you forward to be all that you can be.

    3) There Is No ‘Right’ Way To Grieve

    There are plenty of grief models out there.

    You may have heard of one of the more famous ones called ‘The 5 Stages of Grief’ by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.

    You’ve probably guessed by the name that stage theory proposes that we often move through particular stages when we grieve.

    From denial to anger to depression to bargaining to acceptance.

    Which might be true for you. Or it might not be.

  • You may experience a ton of anger but no denial.
  • You may feel depression but not anger.
  • You might move straight to acceptance.
  • Or you might not experience any of these!

    There is no right or wrong way to grieve.

    There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

  • You may oscillate between grieving what you have lost and focusing on the future.
  • You may have done a lot of your grieving before your loss because it was expected, something that gets called anticipatory grief — grieving in advance, so your grief experience after your loss is not quite as sharp as it might otherwise have been.
  • You may feel relieved about what you’ve lost because it wasn’t right for you or it was causing you pain.
  • You may feel relieved that someone you love is no longer suffering.
  • You may feel guilty about feeling relieved.
  • You may cry for months or not cry at all or cry years later.
  • Grief is as unique as your handprint. How someone else grieves may not be how you grieve.

    Know that there is no right way to grieve.

    As long as the grief you’re experiencing is not stopping you from functioning long-term then what you’re feeling and how you’re processing it is completely normal.

    And if you are struggling to the extent you feel it’s having a detrimental effect on your ability to be in the world, and on your physical, mental, and emotional well-being, then do not be afraid to seek help.

    There is no shame in needing someone to gently guide you through your grief

    So there you have it. Three grief myths that are just that — myths!

    If you’re grieving a loss right now, remember:

  • Grief is not just about death. You will likely experience many different losses across your life and it’s normal to grieve for those.
  • You will not just get over it. And why would you want to? The grief you’re feeling is a symbol that you cared about something or someone. That something or someone deeply mattered to you.
  • There is no right way to grieve. Just like you, grief is unique.
  • Most importantly, be kind and gentle with yourself. Give yourself the time and space you need to feel your pain and to move through it.

    Take as long as you need.

    Know that depending on the loss grief might continue to come and go like waves for the rest of your life and that’s okay.

    This article originally appeared here.

    MORE ARTICLES View All