My article is also published in April 2013 issue of Tidewater Women Magazine.
If you or someone you know is grieving a recent loss, you might be confused about the grieving process. While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are many myths, misconceptions, and misperceptions regarding the grief and mourning process.
Society is full of judgments and stigmas that can make dealing with grief unnecessarily more challenging and difficult. Many belief systems say to use your head in healing from grief when it’s necessary to use the heart. Becoming familiar with these myths and misperceptions can ensure a better experience both for the person grieving and those around her.
TOP SIX MYTHS
• “Time Heals All Wounds” – This creates the idea that a griever just has to wait and he or she will feel better. I’ve known people who waited 10, 20, 30, and 40 years and still didn’t feel better. More likely, they would tell you that not only did time not heal them, but that it compounded the pain.
Grieving is hard work. There’s no going over it or under it—a griever must go through it. A griever feels a flood of emotions that demand attention without warning, predictability, or order. Without guidance and support, this flood can turn into emotional warfare.
Healing begins when the griever has a safe place and permission to feel pain, disbelief, sorrow, and even anger. Healing continues when the expression of emotions are mourned. Mourning starts with the funeral or memorial, honoring memories, and the power of telling the story.
• “Grieve Alone” – Isolation keeps the griever stuck and emphasizes the feelings of going crazy wondering if anyone else understands. A griever benefits by being with others who will listen without judgment, offer love and kindness, and offer reassurance that the griever is not alone.
• “Be Strong” – Judgments, stigmas, cultures, religions, family dynamics, and generational belief systems can actually lead the griever on the path to not healing. What defines strong? Grief is a form of love. Love is an emotion. Grief is an emotion. Stifling emotions (crying, for example) can manifest in physical health problems. Grieving and actively mourning is one of the strongest things a grieving person can do.
• “Don’t Feel Bad” – This gives the impression that the griever is not allowed to be sad, angry, or frustrated. It can create confusion as to whether or not the grieving person loved his loved one enough, which can lead to additional guilt. It encourages the griever to shut down his emotions. People can be uncomfortable being around a griever who is expressing struggling emotions. They do not know how to help relieve the griever’s pain. Listening and loving helps tremendously. Living a healthy balanced life involves feeling all emotions and channeling them safely.
• “Replace the Loss” – Replacing the loss devalues the person who was lost as if she were readily replaceable—or worse never existed. This is not comforting to the griever. This can exacerbate the feelings of sorrow and devastation and impose explosive feelings such as resentment and anger. The griever’s solution is not first to replace what was lost, but rather to heal the heart.
• “Keep Busy” – It’s not about a lot of action, but the right action. Keeping busy doing the wrong things can spiral out of control and move the griever away from being an active participant in grief and mourning. A griever can pay now or pay later as grief will catch up and demand attention.
Addition myths, misconceptions and misperceptions include understanding the capabilities of a griever. Here are a few things the griever is not capable of:
• Getting Over It – Society is not equipped to see the griever upset for very long and has a misperception that being stoic and strong is the answer instead of crying and mourning. On the contrary, grief is a process, a journey that recognizes no timetable or finish line. Grief transforms itself and fluctuates over time.
• Forgetting Your Loved One – It is very unhealthy and nearly impossible for a griever to forget her loved one. It’s impossible to pretend a loved one never existed. Most grievers think of their loved ones on a daily basis, no matter how long ago they passed on.
• Moving On – It is impossible for grievers to move on as if nothing ever happened when the very foundation their lives were built on has been shattered.
• Getting Back To Your Old Self – A griever is forever changed after a major loss. She is no longer the same person. She is thrust into a new normal that takes time to discover and handle.
• Stop Hurting Completely – The griever wants to stop hurting as much as the people around her want her to. However, grief bursts will continue to erupt. As life continues, so do the family get-togethers, holidays, and anniversaries. These life events can be the catalyst of a grief burst just as much as a rainy day.
TAKING BABY STEPS
There are, however, some things a griever is capable of:
• Integrating Life, Loss, and Love – A griever can learn to live with her loss and learn how to embrace, engage, and connect as she integrates her loss into a new chapter of her life.
• Moving Forward – A griever can move forward with this integration and develop a willingness to live life on purpose and restore joy.
• Remembering and Honoring – A griever can integrate memories of her loved one into their future. Some ways to honor your loved one include planting a tree or garden; making a donation to a favorite charity; creating scrapbooks celebrating life stories; creating new memorial traditions; and simply using your loved one’s name in conversations.
• Embracing a New Self – Grievers can learn that part of them has died and they’ve been forever changed. They can discover a new self—ready to emerge. This is a great opportunity for growth and healthy choices.
• Channeling Pain into New Energy – Grievers can pour their pain into new missions, passions, callings, and purpose. They are equipped to reach out with compassion and empathy.