Myths and Misconceptions about Grief
Myths, misconceptions and misunderstandings about grief abound. As our culture is a death denying society, it is a grief denying one as well. Part of Willow House’s mission is to help increase the public’s understanding about the grieving process.
There are several commonly encountered myths about grief – some are explained here along with new ways to think about them, so that we can all be more confident in how we offer support to those who have experienced the death of a loved one:
Myth 1. “Don’t bring up the name of the person who died, so as not to upset the bereaved.”
The person who has experienced a recent death may very likely be thinking of the person who died during much of their days. It is usually an effort not to think of their loved one. Your talking about their loved one will not add to the grief, but will probably be met with relief by the bereaved and appreciation to you for remembering their special person. Yes, there may be tears that come, too, but you did not cause them — you merely helped the bereaved feel comfortable enough to share them.
Myth 2. “People who are grieving should busy themselves with other things and go out socially.”
The bereaved typically have low energy and may have the desire to be alone more than they had before the death. This may be nature’s way of helping the bereaved by forcing them to slow down to heal the emotional wounds (just as a person needs to rest more after a physical injury).
Myth 3. “A bereaved person should not make any major decisions during the first year after a loss.”
While there is some wisdom in not rushing into decisions after a death, at times people hearing this advice may hold off on decisions that may actually be helpful during their grief. For instance, if a change or move had been planned before the death occurred, the bereaved person doesn’t have to stop those plans if that change will be helpful. Also, sometimes a person or family may need to make a move to be closer to family members who can be supportive both emotionally and with child care after a spouse has died.
Myth 4. “There are certain right and wrong ways of grieving.”
There is no right or wrong with grief. People grieve in their own unique ways, with some being very outwardly emotional and others more reticent. Both may be experiencing deep grief, but show it in different ways. There are, however, times that professional help may be needed. Counseling may be indicated when the bereaved are either self-destructive in their grief through addictions or other means of self-harm, or harmful to others and not able to control their rage.
Myth 5. “There is a certain time period in which it is normal to grieve.”
Grief has no timeline. Some people are able to anticipate the loss and begin grieving before the death. Others don’t have the “luxury” of grieving right after the death because they have small children or aging parents to care for. These people may put their grief on hold and it may come out years later. Children may experience repeated episodes of grief with each new developmental stage or special life event (such as a graduation or wedding). Sometimes their grief may not show up until they’re able to better handle it. For example, a child whose father died when she was eight may not manifest outward grief until her late teens or twenties.
There are many other misconceptions about grief. Unfortunately, these ideas affect the bereaved by making them question themselves and their sanity. If you are trying to help someone who is grieving, remaining open to hearing about their experience without placing judgment or giving unsolicited advice is the best way of showing you care.
– Kirsten Randall, LCSW, Willow House Newsletter