There are many definitions of the term “myth.” In our society, it is often described as “an unfounded or false notion,” as presented by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
So, you may be wondering how there could be myths about grief, a very real notion. To explain the idea of “grief myths,” I chose to use Merriam-Webster’s less familiar and popular definition: “A myth is a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; especially one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or segment of society.”
How many times have you, or someone you know, said “Don’t feel bad” as a way of trying to help someone who is experiencing a loss? People cannot miraculously eliminate their feelings of sadness or disappointment. In effect, telling someone “don’t feel bad” is the same as telling them “What you are feeling is bad and wrong. Stop doing it.” I have noticed this myth to be most commonly used with young children, especially boys. Is it any wonder that we struggle as adults to express our true and honest feelings?
Replacing something that has been lost seems like a no-brainer: If you lose an object of importance, you replace it with another. We do it every day. But, the loss of our relationship with a person, either through death or divorce, is not something that can be replaced. Even though the physical relationship may have ended, the emotional relationship lives on.
When the loss of a spouse or child occurs, this myth can run rampant. It is common to hear “You can have more children” or “You will find someone new” within just moments of the loss occurring. The mere thought of these phrases being spoken to someone who just experienced a significant loss makes my skin crawl.
Replacing a loss only serves as a distraction from the incompleteness that you may be experiencing.
If you have been a victim of Myth #1, “Don’t Feel Bad,” chances are you have taken shelter by grieving alone. Like all of the myths, this one starts taking hold in one’s childhood. During a tragic personal loss that I recently experienced, many people wanted to give me “space.” But in reality, I realized other people don’t want or don’t know how to deal with our feelings. But, as humans and grievers, we are naturally inclined to want to share. It is essential that you reach out to someone you can trust with your thoughts and feelings.
Let’s say that, instead of grief, we are talking about a physical injury that you have just sustained. Here you are, with a wound that is causing you unimaginable amounts of pain. But, you’ve been told that “time heals all wounds,” so you’re willing to wait it out. It should be any minute now…..
Then, a week goes by. Your wound becomes infected and needs treatment. But the remedy your family, friends, and even some professionals recommended—time—just doesn’t seem to be working.
A month goes by. Your injury hurts so badly that you are not able to function normally—you’re missing work, cancelling activities with your friends, losing your appetite, and struggling to get out of bed.
A year goes by. You realize that time has done nothing to improve your injury. Time has only permitted it to impact every facet of your life and leave you feeling as hopeless and broken as the day it occurred.
I often hear people say they are “being strong” for a friend or family member following a loss. I’m not sure what this means—how can you be strong for another person? If you are “being strong” for someone, it’s likely you are repressing your own grief, as if it will somehow limit theirs. Don’t do this. Grief doesn’t work that way.
If I had a dollar for every minute that people spent “keeping busy” while grieving, I would have more money than Oprah. Keeping busy is the epitome of avoidance, and it represents a reliance on time to “take care” of the pain, as seen in Myth #4.
If you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one, read more of our articles on grief and grieving.
Rather than accept and contribute to the spread of these myths, you would be better served by sitting down, closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, and acknowledging the feelings you are having. It is only by facing our grief that can we begin to recover from it.
This article was written for the eFuneral Resource Center by Laura Sefcik, MPH, MSW, LISW, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist.® Those thinking about end-of-life should visit eFuneral.com for help researching, planning, and arranging a wide variety of funeral-related services.
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