6 Myths About Grieving


Eleven years ago, Beth Marshall got the call no one ever wants to receive. The one telling her that her mother had died.

"It was the most shocking day of my life," Marshall recalls. A devout Christian, she turned to her faith to get through the heartache. "I thought it wouldn't be so difficult because I had such a strong faith. I thought I could pray it away."

That was just one of the many myths Marshall realized during her journey of grief.

During more than 20 years as a bereavement counselor, Louise Kenny, LCSW has recognized six common myths about grieving.

Myth 1: Grief has a timeline

Kenny, who counsels dying patients and their families at Avow Hospice in Naples, Florida, believes this is one of the most common misconceptions. She often hears clients say (or be told by others), ‘It's been six months or 12 months - you should be over this.' The truth is, there is no time line. "The grief process is a personal experience and influenced by so many factors," adds Kenny. "There's no set timeline to be done with it."

"People think you should snap out of it," says Marshall of the grieving process. She admits that more than a decade after her loss, she still cries when she hears a song on the radio that reminds her of her mother. "It doesn't mean you haven't gotten better. It means you've gotten through the season, and it's part of the process. You can't check grief off like a scorecard."

Myth 2: Staying busy will keep the pain away

Kenny says time and time again, she sees family members attempt to immerse themselves in work, volunteering or other activities in an attempt to avoid grieving. But sooner or later, the grief catches up with you, promises Kenny. As a pastoral care lay minister, Marshall has seen this myth play out as well among church members who have lost a loved one. "They move so fast hoping it won't catch them," Marshall says. "But it always does."

Myth 3: I'm weak if I cry

"Crying is nature's way," explains Kenny. "It's our most natural mechanism to release pain." Kenny believes our culture has made it unacceptable for people to cry, and it's a myth she sees perpetuated among women and men alike.

Marshall admits the only time she allowed herself to cry publicly was at her mother's funeral. "I didn't want to be wimpy," she says. But the way Kenny sees it, "when we can really cry our way through (grief), we can become very strong by expressing those experiences."

Myth 4: If I stop hurting, I'll forsake my loved one

Kenny says it is very common for people to believe they're dishonoring a loved one if they laugh, smile, or realize they aren't experiencing emotional pain anymore. Sometimes, people want to hold onto the pain to stay close to the loved one. Unfortunately, this attitude doesn't allow the person to move through their grief. When survivors stop hurting, they often mistake it with a loss of love for the person who died, which leads to guilt. "Living through a loss, and then thriving does not diminish our love for our beloved," adds Kenny. She believes counseling or joining a support group can be beneficial to survivors who are experiencing this grieving myth because it will remind the person that it's okay to live.

Myth 5: There are stages of grief

Author Elisabeth Kubler-Ross made the five stages of grief famous in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. But even Kubler-Ross didn't believe the stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) were chronological, or that survivors would experience each and every one of them. Kenny thinks believing that there are stages of grief is probably the biggest myth of grieving.

Myth 6: Grief should be experienced alone

"My one regret is that I tried to be heroic and I didn't let people in," Marshall states. After her mother's death, she thought she needed to put up a strong front for her husband and her young children. But on the one-year anniversary of her mother's passing, Marshall broke down around a group of church friends. "They asked me if they could pray for me and I thought, ‘why didn't I do this before?'"

Marshall says people think they shouldn't bother others with their sorrow. "The truth is that there are people who can walk with you." Through her pastoral care experience, Marshall has realized that the people who allow others to assist them through the grieving process are able to travel through a difficult season of sorrow without feeling isolated in their pain.

Kenny tells her counseling patients to lean on their friends in whatever way feels best, whether it's sharing a phone call or having a friend cook a meal. In short, surround yourself with loving compassionate people.

Kenny also advises survivors to be tender with themselves – in the same way they would if they'd just had surgery. Experiment with social situations and find a balance between staying at home and going out. Kenny also recommends immersing yourself in whatever you find beautiful, whether it's taking long walks on the beach, painting, visiting a museum, or listening to your favorite music. Counseling can be extremely helpful, as well as support groups, which bring together people who are on a similar journey.

During her time of grief, Marshall started journaling. At first, it was her way to ensure her children would remember their grandmother. Hour after hour, she wrote stories and anecdotes about her mother and realized that writing was therapeutic. Less than a year after her loss, Marshall watched the tragedy of 9/11 unfold. Marshall decided to send journals to family members of victims and survivors, and in doing so, turned her personal sorrow into a mission to help others and an unexpected business.

All of us will go through the grieving process at some point in our lives, and there is no right or wrong way to experience it. It's important to honor the process, to take time and be still and by doing so, give your heart time to heal.

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I have been thinking about my experiences and want to share further.
#1. Many in society expect you to "get over" your loss by a certain time, and that there is something wrong with you if you don't. New theories of grieving a lost child talk about the continuing, but changed relationship. This may well apply to other losses too. A person who had been an important part of your life for many years, does not just disappear when they die. You still have feelings for them and memories about them that need to be honoured. When you are ready to, working out how best to do that takes time and effort. Creating memorials of some kind can help, scrapbooks, photo albums, donations to a favourite cause, planting a special tree or bush, and so on. I had a park bench out up on the trail across from the house in memory of my son. Nine years later, It still gives me comfort to see people use it. Friends have left flowers on it. You don't stop missing them.
#2 Grief waits for you. If you get busy, as soon as you stop to take a breath, grief appears. I found it important in the early days, months of a loss to give myself enough time, and space to "feel my feelings". It is not easy, and there is a lot of emotional pain, but is a necessary part of the process of healing. I found that I ws a much less social creature, as I needed my energy, and time to process my grief.
#3 Tears - I read that the 4 T's - tears, talk (or writing), toil and time are needed to work through grief. Time only works if you do the first three. Tears are a natural expression of pain, and although at times the pain may seem overhwhelming and tears and accompanying feelings even frightening, yielding to them brings relief. A bout of tears usually doesn't last longer than 20 mins (according to experts and my experience) and you do feel a whole lot better afterwards. They bouts lessen in time and become lkess intense.
#4. Hanging on to the hurting is common, and something many have to work through. It feels like you are betraying your loved one if you find enjoyment. In time you realise that concentrating on the good memories is valid (the bad ones will pop up anyway) and, you become more comfortable with that, and able to share your loved one with others in a way that all can enjoy.
#5. I do think there are stages or phases of grief, but they are flexible and individual. Many will feel the feelings described in the five stages, but certainly not in any order, and they may come and go, and come back again. I have seen that 3 months, 6 months, 9 months then a year ,and so on, are times when grief hits particularly hard, as well as special days like birthdays and holidays. It is good to plan something at those times to help yourself get through them.
#6. I absolutelly agree you must be tender with yourself, and find people with whom you can share. Not everyone is comfortable sharing grief, but some are, and many times not those you would expect, in my experience. Those who can be supportive are invaluable resources and "safe places" to go. .In grief, one needs a safe place.
To all of you have read this article and written your heart felt comments. These stages and phases are as passages which some of us will pass through again and again until we are done. We do not pass through necessarily in any order nor do we pass through them just once. All that said, to all of you who are healing the wounded heart from loss of someone who impacted your life, may I say how essential it is for you to honor your healing heart and know that you may count on expressions of loving kindness and compassion to always aid in your recovery. Lastly, know that all feelings are temporary, sad, bad, angry and scared, but LOVE is eternal. Peace dear ones. Louise Kenny
I became a widow at 33. Within two months my father died. There are no time limits is absolutely true. I did remarry within a short period. Growing love is not a cure for loss or a replacement. I happen to have been very lucky to discover a man who knew I would still be grieving for many years.