We live in a culture where we are taught how to acquire, not how to let go. Death is often viewed as unnatural, a failure, an affront or a narcissistic injury. With this as a backdrop, myths about grief abound. We will address a few of these here.
One of the most popular myths about grief is that there are five stages of grief—and that the entire process proceeds in an orderly, rational process. In reality, the process of grief is more like riding a rollercoaster. Grievers go back and forth into places with soft and blurry boundaries, experiencing the emotions of grief in waves which ebb and flow.
Another popular myth is that we arrive at some kind of closure. Working through loss is a life-long process. We eventually come to an acceptance of the loss, but deep inside we continue to process the loss, and how we hold it changes as we grow and change.
Some think we have to “let go” of the person who died…but in reality, we incorporate that relationship into who we are…it lives inside us, a spiritual relationship, where the emotional bond remains intact.
Another myth is that grief is the same for everyone. It is absurd to say to someone “I know how you feel”, for in truth, we can never really know another’s experience. Every grief is unique, for every relationship is unique.
Often, people believe that you shouldn’t upset the griever by talking about the loss. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The griever NEEDS to talk about the loss, and welcomes the opportunity to do so.
Sometimes, people believe that children don’t grieve. They do, but differently from adults. Death can be a very confusing experience for children, and they often do not act sad or cry like adults do. Children can play, seem happy, or not display their feelings, yet be deeply affected by a loss.
Masking our feelings, staying busy, or “keeping a stiff upper lip” is NOT brave. It takes strength and courage to allow ourselves to feel, identify, and express our feelings. As Stephen Levine said, “Fearlessness is not the absence of fear” .
Finally, grief does not go away if we ignore it. It stays inside us, perhaps masquerading as depression, an illness, or laying in wait to overwhelm us at another time.
Time itself does not heal grief…it is what we DO with the time that heals us.