Grief is a natural and normal reaction to loss but is often misunderstood. Most of what we were taught isn't useful, and mistaken myths about grieving only set up unrealistic expectations.
I became familiar with these myths through my own experience and while working with hospice families and other grievers throughout the years. In the past, I believed most of them myself.
Myth #1: Be Strong for Others
Upon learning my mother had terminal cancer, I began to cry. I quickly wiped away my tears to comfort my dad, believing I had to be strong for him. In truth I was sad and scared, yet relieved to know what was wrong with my mother.
Honestly expressing feelings not only helps you heal—it gives others permission to express their feelings. This is especially important when children are grieving. If the adults bury their feelings, the children learn to bury theirs. These feelings can show up in unhealthy ways later.
Myth #2: Replace the Loss
In the aftermath of my mother’s death, my dad quickly remarried. After the initial joy of beginning a new relationship, he was once again sad and talked of missing my mother. Lightbulbs are replaceable; relationships are not. Having another baby, finding another partner, buying another dog, or taking another job doesn’t replace what was lost.
Myth #3: Just Give It Time
Rose Kennedy, who lost a husband and four adult children, said, “It has been said ‘Time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain.” Time can no more heal grief than time can fix a flat tire.
A widow once shared that she had burst into tears upon hearing a store clerk’s voice because he sounded just like her husband, who had died 15 years earlier. Hearing the voice brought back all the pain she had felt while caring for him during a long illness and death, even though many years had passed.
Myth #4: Grieve Privately
Grievers often isolate. It seems some of us have taken to heart that old saying, “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and you cry alone.” Friends and family may unwittingly encourage the isolation, thinking they should give the griever some space.
Myth #5: Don’t Talk About It
Nothing could be further from the truth. Grievers often want and need to talk about what happened. It’s part of the healing process. You can help by asking what happened; saying the name of the lost person or pet; and listening without judging, criticizing, or advising unless asked. Grievers usually want and need to be heard, not fixed.
Myth #6: Keep Busy
Sometimes grievers want to distract themselves from the mixed feelings around loss. A griever is reported to have said, “Filling your time so you don’t dwell on the loss doesn’t change how you feel.
"It temporarily makes you forget about the pain of the loss in a flurry of activity. It makes one more day go by. Yet at the end of the day, I’m exhausted and there’s still a hole in my heart.”
Myth #7: I Don’t Want to Forget
How many times have I heard someone say that moving on with life would mean forgetting the person who died? Healing is not about forgetting; it’s about enjoying warm memories without the pain.
Grief takes as long as it takes, and there is no right or wrong way to express it. Nor does it really end; instead we gradually take new shape around it.
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