Healthy Grieving: Ten myths and facts about grief

Myth #1. Everyone grieves the same way.
Fact: Grieving is a highly individual experience. The grief response depends upon a variety of factors: one’s personal coping style, education, religious outlook, life experience, etc. No two people grieve the same way.

Myth #2. Grief lasts six months to a year.
Fact: While some people experience a grief resolution in that time frame, they are much in the minority. Most grief recovery takes two years or more before life begins to feel “normal.”

Myth #3. There are stages of grief.
Fact: There is no set pattern and no linear progression. Grief is more like a roller coaster ride with ups and downs. The stages of death and dying—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—have been inappropriately applied to the grief process. As each love is unique, each grieving pattern is unique.

Myth #4. Time heals the wound.
Fact: Time alone is not sufficient. Rabbi Earl Grollman, a bereavement authority and author of Living With Loss, Healing With Hope, writes: “An old saying tells us that ‘time heals.’ In part, that is true. With the passage of time, the pangs of grief may become less sharp, less frequent. But healing does not simply happen. You must help time do it’s healing.” Some ways to help time heal include participating in a grief support group, nurturing your spirit, and taking care of your physical self with exercise and proper nutrition.

Myth #5. The goal is to get over grief as soon as possible.
Fact: It isn’t possible, nor is it desirable, to rush grief recovery. Angela Morrow, RN, says, “A person mourning the loss of a loved one needs to mourn at their own pace. Instead of focusing on getting over the grief, one could focus on growing through it.

Myth #6. Friends can help by avoiding talking about the deceased.
Fact: Grievers usually want and need to talk about their loss, about the person who has died. Friends can facilitate the healing by bringing up rather than avoiding the issue.

Myth #7. Tears reveal personal weakness.
Fact: Tears reflect a deep love and are a natural part of mourning. Bereavement authority Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D., explains: “Unfortunately, many people associate tears of grief with personal inadequacy and weakness. Crying on the part of the mourner often generates feelings of helplessness in friends, family and caregivers. Out of a wish to protect mourners from pain, friends and family may try to stop the tears. Comments such as, ‘Tears won’t bring him back’ and ‘He wouldn’t want you to cry’ discourage.

Yet crying is nature’s way of releasing internal tension in the body and allows the mourner to communicate a need to be comforted. Crying makes people feel better, emotionally and physically. Tears are not a sign of weakness.”

Myth #8. Staying busy will keep the pain away.
Fact: There is no way to avoid the pain and hurt of loss. Burying oneself in a flurry of activity only delays the recovery. The best approach is a balance of social interaction and solitude.

Myth #9. Family and friends will be your best support system.
Fact: Not always. Some families have high dysfunction. Some friends have never had an experience with loss and may not know how to help. Most grievers say the best support came from one of two sources: individuals with high levels of compassion and sensitivity or persons who have themselves experienced the death of a loved one.

Myth #10. There will be closure.
Fact: Closure is not some magical, mystical, endpoint with a sudden, abrupt ending to grief and life returns to normal. The idea of closure, when viewed from a healthy, realistic perspective can be motivating to complete the tasks involved in grief recovery.

Victor M. Parachin, M. Div., is a bereavement educator and grief counselor.

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