As the world is going through an unprecedented time and grief is being felt across the globe, I thought it was a good time to write about some of the myths surrounding the topic and the things I learned as I received my own grief counselling.
I am not a physician nor am I a psychologist (not yet anyway) but I have studied and experienced grief enough to know there are several beliefs surrounding this topic that need to be cleared up. I understand these myths on an intellectual level but I have also experienced just how inaccurate they are through my own personal experiences.
1. Grief relates to more than just the death of someone you know and love – Whenever I ask someone what they think of when I say the word grief; they often say death.
This is true, it does relate to death, and it doesn’t always have to be the death of someone you know personally. You can grieve the death of someone you’ve never met such as a celebrity or someone who lives in the community.
However, grief doesn’t only relate to death. Years ago I may have responded the same way, but I now know that grief relates to far more than just the death of a loved one.
According to The Grief Recovery Institute, the definition of grief is “the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in, a familiar pattern or behaviour. The institute has identified over 40 life experiences that result in grief, including divorce, job loss, illness, and loss of control.
2. Time heals everything – If you have ever experienced grief, which the majority of us have on some level, you have likely heard the statement, time heals everything. The truth is, time alone heals nothing, we must do the work.
We might not always want to do the work right away, and that’s okay, but eventually, there needs to be more than just time passing by to heal us.
We need to face our grief in some form, process it, and learn ways to move forward. You will never go back to the way things were because that’s impossible, but through some form of grief work, which varies for everyone, you will find your new normal. If you take the time to sit with your grief and work through it, you will then heal in time.
3. Grief goes through stages in a linear fashion – We’ve all heard Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief, and many of us cringe at the thought of them. I used to until I learned the real reason these stages were developed in the first place. Kübler-Ross was not studying those grieving a loss of someone else at first; she was studying those who were terminally ill, facing their mortality and the typical stages they went through.
The problem was that over time these stages were taken out of context and used to describe a person who is grieving loss, which couldn’t be further from reality. Yes, these are still common experiences people will have while grieving, but not everyone experiences all of them, nor do they experience them in any particular order.
You can be having the most incredible day, filled with hope, and then the next day can be excruciating for no apparent reason. You can be filled with joy and grateful one moment and angry and confused the next.
Often joy can bring on the most intense grief. I remember in the first year of my grief; I would embrace my good days because I didn’t know when another one would come.
4. Grief is not one singular emotion – Grief is a roller coaster of emotions. Sometimes several emotions can be felt at the same time, and sometimes they are individual. Grief can often make a person feel numb and experience no emotion at all. You can even experience grief during moments of happiness.
When someone is grieving, they are going through a very complex experience, and there is no right or wrong way of doing it.
5. The first year is the worst – I don’t know how many times I heard someone say the first year is the worst. Once you get through all the firsts, it will get easier. When you speak to someone who has experienced a significant loss like a death, they will more often than not tell you that the first year is most definitely not the worst.
In my experience, I would have to agree. In the first year, there is often so much that needs to be done—legal matters, estate sales, funerals, moving, celebrations, and anniversaries. Once the second year comes around, things start to sink in. The adrenaline and shock have completely worn off, and the reality of your new normal has kicked in.
This is an individual experience, and for some, the first year might be the worst, but for others, it might not.
6. If you are still sad after six months, you have complicated or prolonged grief – Yes, there is such a thing as complicated and prolonged grief, but these two diagnoses do not relate to someone who is “still sad.”
Shortly after the death of my 30-year-old fiancé, I was having a conversation with a naturopath, and he told me that if in six or so months someone said the words complicated or prolonged grief to me, I was to see him before taking any type of medication.
I was utterly blown away when this happened. I had a regular check-in with my workplace physician, and she asked me how I was doing. This was in September, about seven months after my fiancé died, and I explained to her that I was still having a hard time. Overall I was functioning okay, but had my fiance not died; we would have been getting married on October 14th.
She tried to convince me that it was abnormal that I was still grieving and that I should consider antidepressants. Please understand that just because you are still sad does not mean your grieving is abnormal.
These disorders are reserved for those who are having trouble with day to day functioning. It makes me not only frustrated but sad that many who are grieving are misled to believe there is something wrong with them.
7. You Grieve Less When You Know Someone is Going to Die – Grief is such a subjective experience, and no one can say which type of loss is more or less painful. I have experienced both sudden death and death from an illness when we knew the prognosis was terminal.
I can say confidently that both are excruciating. I am not sure it’s even worth weighing the pros or cons because the result in both cases is death, and death is difficult.
8. If something helped one grieving person, it would help another – When experiencing a loss of any kind that results in grief, people are very quick to offer their suggestions for what you should do. More often than not, people mean well, and they just want to help, but for the griever, this can be less than helpful and sometimes overwhelming.
When someone tells you to try x, y, z, it can be frustrating. When you offer a suggestion, it can sometimes imply that grief can be fixed. Grief can not be fixed, and sometimes the most powerful way to heal from the pain of grief is to feel it and experience it without trying to make it go away.
It won’t just go away.
I know this can be so hard for people to grasp because watching someone hurt can be unbearable, but it’s so important to hold space for those who are “in it” because, in the end, that will help them the most.
9. When someone dies, your relationship with them is over, and you should no longer talk about them – I remember exactly how it felt the first time I was looked at awkwardly for speaking Nick’s name. I couldn’t understand what the problem was and why I was being looked at like I had just said something completely uncomfortable and offside.
I know this seems exaggerated, but I am telling you this happens more often than some might think, especially when you enter a new romantic relationship after the loss of a spouse. It’s as if some people believe that once someone is dead, you no longer have a relationship with them, or when you start a new relationship, the love and grief you had for the deceased become void. This could not be further from the truth.
When someone loses anyone they love, that love and loss become a part of who they are. It doesn’t and shouldn’t define them as a person, but it is a significant part of who they have become and had that loss not occurred; the new relationship would not exist.
I am so lucky to have so many people in my life who honour all of the people I have lost and are never afraid to speak their names.
10. People like doctors and counsellors have training in grief, so they know how to help you – Don’t get me wrong, there are so many phenomenal doctors and counsellors out there, and I have had the pleasure of meeting some of them. However, like any profession, there are some less desirable ones who do more harm than good.
Please be an advocate for yourself and know that if you feel like something isn’t helpful, you don’t have to do it just because someone has credentials. You know yourself better than anyone, and you have the right to ask questions and refuse something that doesn’t feel right.
11. Once You Are “Done” Grieving, Life Will be Normal Again – I am writing this article on April 24, 2020, almost one week after the tragic loss of so many in Nova Scotia and a day that has been filled with tributes across our country.
There have been several posts of pipers playing the beautiful Amazing Grace, and it brings me to tears every time I hear it. Not only does this song remind me of funerals and police memorials I have attended as a police officer, it reminds me of the very real dangers that my spouse faces every day as an active member of the RCMP.
I have already walked behind the casket of the man that I love, as a piper played this powerful hymn, and it brings back those feelings I felt in the early moments of my grief.
Such a simple song reminds me of the pain and horror I have once suffered, and all that was lost. It doesn’t last as long anymore, and I can move through it much quicker than I used to, but it is still there, and grieving never ends completely.
You are never ‘done’ grieving but your grief becomes less sharp. You learn to carry it in a way that is manageable and sometimes it may even be comforting. In the moments where the grief is triggered, it can hurt, but it’s normal and you must be gentle on yourself.
Grief is so many things, but it is not something we check off and put away forever. It comes in waves, and it never entirely disappears. If we as a society take the time to learn more about it and acknowledge that it’s not a one size fits all experience and one that can be “cured,” maybe it would make the experience just a little bit more bearable and a lot less uncomfortable for everyone.
I will always advocate for myself and for those who are grieving, and if you are ever wondering how you can help, just ask.
If at any point you feel like you are struggling to cope and you feel like you need help, please know there is no shame in seeking grief support or grief counselling and I can help you find both.
Meg is a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist, and is dedicated to helping others who have suffered tragedy or pain, by giving them the foundation to live life to the fullest. Her purpose is to encourage others to take control of their lives and not let tragedy or grief destroy it.
Find your passion for life again with Meg, who is a certified life coach in Calgary. If you are wondering if you are ‘ready’ to hire a life coach, you can check out the link here to download a free PDF that explains whether or not you should hire a life coach: https://bit.ly/MegRobertsLifeCoach.
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