Below are five common myths about grief that prevent people from healing and receiving the compassionate support they need. By overcoming these myths, identified by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, the director of the Center of Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado, you will better understand how to help yourself or someone else in grief.
Myth #1: Grief and mourning are the same experience.
Most people tend to use the words grief and mourning interchangeably. However, there is an important distinction between them. We have learned that people move toward healing not by just grieving, but through mourning. Simply stated, grief describes the internal thoughts and feelings we experience when someone we love dies. Mourning, on the other hand, is taking the internal experience of grief and expressing it outside ourselves.
In reality, many people in our culture grieve, but they do not mourn. Instead of being encouraged to express their grief outwardly, they are often greeted with messages such as "carry on," "keep your chin up," and "keep busy." So, they end up grieving within themselves in isolation, instead of mourning outside themselves in the presence of loving companions.
Myth #2: There is a predictable and orderly progression to the experience of grief.
Stage-like thinking about both dying and grief has been an appealing idea to many people. Somehow the "stages of grief" have helped people make sense out of an experience that isn''''t as orderly and predictable as we would like it to be. If only it were so simple!
Each person's grief is uniquely his or her own. It is neither predictable nor orderly. Nor can its different dimensions be so easily categorized. We only get ourselves in trouble when we try to prescribe what the grief and mourning experiences of others should be, or when we try to fit our own grief into neat little boxes.
Myth #3: It is best to move away from grief and mourning instead of toward it.
Many grievers do not give themselves permission or receive permission from others to mourn. We live in a society that often encourages people to prematurely move away from their grief instead of toward it. Many people view grief as something to be overcome rather than experienced. The result is that many of us either grieve in isolation or attempt to run away from our grief.
Refusing to allow tears, suffering in silence and "being strong" are thought to be admirable behaviours. Many people in grief have internalized society''''s message that mourning should be done quietly, quickly and efficiently.
Such messages encourage the repression of the griever''''s thoughts and feelings. The problem is that attempting to mask or move away from grief results in internal anxiety and confusion.
Myth #4: Tears expressing grief are only a sign of weakness.
Unfortunately, many people associate tears of grief with personal inadequacy and weakness. Crying on the part of the mourner often generates feelings of helplessness in friends, family and caregivers. Out of a wish to protect mourners from pain, friends and family may try to stop the tears.
Yet crying is nature''''s way of releasing internal tension in the body and allows the mourner to communicate a need to be comforted. Crying makes people feel better, emotionally and physically. Tears are not a sign of weakness. In fact, crying is an indication of the griever''''s willingness to do the "work of mourning."
Myth #5: The goal is to "get over" your grief.
We have all heard people ask, "Are you over it yet?" To think that we as human beings "get over" grief is ridiculous! Mourners do, however, learn to reconcile their grief. We learn to integrate the new reality of moving forward in life without the physical presence of the person who has died. With reconciliation a renewed sense of energy and confidence, an ability to fully acknowledge the reality of the death, and the capacity to become re-involved with the activities of the living.
As the experience of reconciliation unfolds, we recognize that life will be different without the presence of the person who died. At first we realize this with our heads, and later we come to realize it with our hearts.