Some Common Misconceptions About Grief and Loss
Grief is something that touches each of us, and when it does, it affects us very powerfully. Yet we don't seem to know much about grief, so when it happens to us or to someone else we don't really know how it is going to affect us or what to do, nor do we know how to help others. Perhaps to examine some common misconceptions of grief and loss will be useful, and help us to help others.
The first five of these misconceptions are drawn from Walsh's ‘Grief and Loss' and having an understanding of them can help us know what to expect about the grieving process.
Misconception 1: Time heals all wounds
The first misconception is that time heals all wounds. By itself, time doesn't heal anything. What is important is what we do with this time to help ourselves and others heal. This usually involves acknowledging our loss, getting the support of caring and supportive people, and connecting with our own feelings.
Misconception 2: Don't talk about it
The second misconception is that people find it too difficult to talk about grief. Feeling this discomfort, we edge around talking about their grief. The reverse is often true. Even though talking about our grief can be painful, it can also be enormously helpful for us and we often look for opportunities to talk about what's happening and about the person we have lost. If a person doesn't want to talk, they will let you know.
Misconception 3: Crying is not coping
The third misconception is that crying is an indication that someone is not coping well. It is more accurate to say that crying indicates that someone is going through some strong feelings. When someone close to you has died, strong feelings are expected and a natural part of the way working through grief. Someone crying may be a signal that the other person would like to talk, and would appreciate your listening to them.
Misconception 4: Grieving takes x months
The fourth misconception regards the length of time grieving takes. Grief is an individual experience and each of us grieves in our own way. We need to be able to take the time that it takes for our grief to be processed, and no one – not even us – can say how long that will be.
Misconception 5: Put it behind you
The fifth misconception is that quickly putting grieving behind us helps us heal faster. In actuality, trying to consciously and forcefully put an end to a grieving can just make it last longer and perhaps lead to maladaptive expressions of grief such as extreme withdrawal from support. Grief takes the time that it takes.
You don't have to let go
I will add another two misconceptions of grief and loss here. The first is that grief involves letting the deceased person go. This was certainly the advice given to people in the past about how to handle their grief, but as we understand the process of grieving better, we now know that to keep an internal sense of the deceased with us is not a sign of failing to grieve, but rather it can be a comfort and strength as we try to build a new life for ourselves.
We don't know how we'll cope
Secondly, we never know how grief is going to affect us. Sometimes we will be strongly affected by something we thought we would take in our stride; at other times we can come through grief a lot better than we thought we would. We just won't know.
In summary, many of the things that we think we know about grief aren't true. It can be helpful to keep in mind that grief is an individual process whose unfolding can be mysterious to us, but that the support and comfort of other people can often make a big difference.
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