Grief is the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual reaction to a loss. Mourning is how we accept loss, process emotions, and find a new normal. Grief is an experience we will all have during our lifetime, yet we do little to prepare or learn about the process. Our losses are hidden behind closed doors and considered private. Leaving most of us to learn from our few personal experiences and media with glorified versions of death and the aftermath. Here are a few myths associated with grief:
Myth #1: Grief follows a predictable timeline.
In 1969, a renowned research scientist, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, identified 5 predictable stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Many grasped this easy-to-understand view of loss and believed that we all manage grief in the same way. This couldn't be further from the truth and can be harmful to force expect or force upon a griever.
Kubler-Ross did identify similar experiences that all humans have but never intended for the stages of grief to predict an order or structure to grief. Most individuals experiencing loss will experience these phases, but they can be in any order. Some can be skipped, combined, or all at once.
We now know that everyone grieves in their way. Many factors can affect how someone grieves; their relationship with the person, how the person died when they died, what secondary losses occurred, their experience with death, their current situation in life, and so many other influences. Their way is normal, no matter how different from what we expect.
Many interpretations from the initial study have introduced additional stages, such as finding meaning and reconstruction.
Myth #2: Grief is something to "get over."
Grief is not a problem to be solved but rather a natural process to be experienced. There is no 'normal' time to grieve. Everyone experiences the loss differently and will have their own timeline.
Grief requires mourning, the process of feeling the emotions that arise and incorporating the new relationship with their loved one into their day-to-day lives. The process can be a daily experience for days, weeks, or many years. There are no rules, but many lean on religious or cultural rituals such as funerals, memorials, shiva, creating altars, etc., to honor their person.
But their grief does not disappear; it remains and becomes, for most, manageable.
My favorite metaphor for grief is that of a large boulder. When you lose an important person, you are handed an immense boulder to carry with no notice or choice. Over time you take steps to become stronger and capable of carrying this weight. It never shrinks or becomes lighter, and you just become more able to take it with you.
Myth #3: Grief is a solo journey.
Society often expects people to grieve alone or only seek professional support. But as we all grieve differently, we need many options for help.
Not all of our family and friends before the loss are willing or able to support us on this journey. We need to determine who is safe to share our experience and who cannot walk with us and be careful when we ask for help.
Professional help is available through therapists, psychologists, and grief coaches.
Funeral homes are a surprising source of support, often with tips for mourning, connections to professionals, and daily options through emails and social media. Check out https://www.griefshare.org/dailyemails.
Most hospices offer bereavement support to their communities and their patient's family members for several months, including individual and group support.
Social media offers many online options with groups such as Widows Empowering Widows and Fit Widow.
If you like podcasts, you can find several through your favorite source, like Widow Cast.
There are many myths about grief. What is most important to know is that we all grieve differently, and there is no right way to grieve and mourn. Finding your way and allowing others to do the same is okay.