Misconceptions About Grief
Misconception: a false or mistaken view, opinion, or attitude.
If you were to look directly in the face of your grief and loss experience, and ask yourself, “what causes me the most anxiety, stress and confusion as I try to live with my loss?” What would your answer be?
I know for myself, I would have answered, “telling everyone at work, everyday, that I was ‘fine’ when I wasn’t fine at all.” Or, hearing “you should be over it by now, it’s time to move on.” Looking back, these situations were all created from pretenses I had internalized about my grief and my ability to mourn. I had begun to believe some common misconceptions about grief, which were contrary to my experience of grief and my needs. When these ‘beliefs, or false notions’ create unnecessary and added stress or discord, it’s time to dispel those beliefs.
Our society isn’t comfortable with death, grief, mourning and pain, and therefore it becomes more socially acceptable to not demonstrate mourning behavior – talking about your loved one, crying, and expressing your feelings. Well-meaning friends, family, co-workers and even strangers attempt to pull you out of your pain by encouraging you to “get over it,” and “move on.” Unfortunately this a viscious circle. With no perceived safety in your ability to mourn, and little or no social support to be with your pain, your grief begins to feel abnormal, and you begin to feel more isolated in your pain…this creates confusion, anxiety and even a sense that you are “going crazy.” The day after the funeral, you are thinking, “why aren’t I over it by now?” This creates a really deep void between our natural and ongoing response to loss, and the pressures we feel to resolve our pain ASAP and get back to normal….both of which are impossible orders to fill.
By it’s nature, grief is a natural, normal, organic internal reaction to loss. Mourning authentically is the real challenge – bringing your grief outside yourself, despite the misconceptions of grief and mourning that tend to shape and influence your experience. As you read the misconceptions below, see if they have unknowingly shaped your experience, created unrealistic expectations of yourself, or affected your need and security to mourn your losses genuinely.
Misconception #1: Grief and mourning are the same thing
Many people use the terms grief and mourning interchangeably. Grief is the internal thoughts and feelings created from experiencing a loss in your life. Grief is the container within yourself that holds all aspects of how your loss affects you, and the meaning your loss holds for you. Mourning is how you express your internalized feelings of grief outside yourself. Mourning creates situations where you can express your feelings about your loss – verbally, or through an artistic medium, talking about your loved one, and crying. Grief naturally arises within you – mourning takes work. It’s essential to find safe spaces and understanding people who you can express yourself to. As you mourn, you acknowledge the reality of the death to both yourself and those around you. Over-time, to mourn is to heal.
Misconception #2: Grief and mourning progress in predictable orderly stages
In 1969 a guru of death and dying, Elizabeth Kubler Ross developed the concept of “stages” of grief, as a result of noticing what terminally ill patients she worked with went through as they coped with their illness. These stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It was never meant to become a rigid, linear perscription of the complex process of grief. However, over the years, this is what has happened, and now it is a common belief that as you move through grief you move through predictable, orderly stages, eventually arising at acceptance. This is not the case. Our grief is not predicable or orderly. Its messy, disorganized, with ebbs and flows. It’s stormy and even calm. Placing your grief in a linear box does nothing to prepare you for it’s volatily. Instead, practice to just be where you are, without trying to fit your experiene into how things should be (and really, who defines should?). Just be where you are.
Misconceptions #3: You should move away from grief, not toward it
It is a strongly held belief in our society that grief should be moved away from. That pain should be avoided. This constant expectation to repress your heartache creates a slippery slope for the bereaved. What you resist, persists. In reality, you need to move towards your grief – straight into the center of your pain in order to heal yourself and integrate the loss into your lives. You need to feel to heal. In this way, grief is experienced rather than overcome.
Misconception #4: Tears are a sign of weakness
Many people think that tears are a sign of weakness, and that crying should be avoided. Wouldn’t it be nice if people believe that tears are a sign of strength? Your body is wise, and you cry for a reason. It releases internal tension, and communicates a need to be comforted by those around you. Notice how you feel after a good cry. Notice the release of tension from the face and throat, and the change in the brightness of your eyes. To cry is to heal.
Misconception #5: When someone dies you grieve and mourn only for the physcial loss of the person
Outwardly, the physical loss of the person is the most obvious loss, but within you there is an entire array of losses you can feel. It’s like tossing a stone into a pond, the water ripples outward in concentric circles – this is how loss permeates your life. Not only do you feel the physical loss of the person, but you can also feel loss in the following ways:
Anniversaries and holidays can be especially difficult times for the bereaved as these important days hold a whole host of memories and even expectations about how the day should transpire. Often times, as anniversaries or holidays draw near, we instinctively begin to remember. Notice how your heart and soul nudge you to remember…and also notice how well-intentioned friends and family try to draw you away from remembering by keeping busy or cramming the day so full that there is no time to reflect and remember. Instead of trying to not think of your loved one, acknowledging your loved one and even doing something on the day in their memory as a way of commemorating them.
Misconception #7: After someone you love dies, your goal should be to get over your grief as soon as possible
As a human being, with the capacity to love and the capacity to remember, you never “get over” your grief. The language of “getting over” suggests that at some point you will forget the loss, forget your pain, and return to a level of normalcy that was present before your loved one died. Your grief changes over time in intensity and urgency, but your losses are woven into the tapestry of your life – forever impacting how you choose to live. You learn to live with your grief, and eventually by moving to the heart of your grief and doing the work of mourning you find new energy to live, and you develop a new relationship with your loss that you can relate to with less emotion and a renewed sense of hope. You reconcile your grief in your life but your don’t “get over it.”
Misconception: a false or mistaken view, opinion, or attitude
“We have to find ways to unlearn those things that screen us from the perception of profound truth.” -Thomas Moore
….be your truth…