Common Myths and Misconceptions about Grief

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When someone dies, grief is felt only by that person=s family members and close friends. 
In reality, grief is felt by anyone with an emotional attachment to the deceased, whether we know the person well or not.  We may mourn for public figures we respect and admire, for example, even though we
=ve never met them personally.

Grief is what we feel only when a loved one dies. 
Grief is a normal response to the experience of loss of any kind, including unusual and secondary losses.  Such grief often goes unrecognized and unacknowledged.  (Examples include disenfranchised losses such as loss of a cherished pet, and losses stemming from major life transitions such as graduation, moving, marriage or divorce, job loss, incarceration, disability, or alteration in health status.)

Grief is an emotional response to loss. 
In fact, grief can affect us in every dimension of our being: physically, emotionally, cognitively, behaviorally, socially and spiritually.

Grief and mourning are one and the same. 
Grief is an individual
=s private, inner response to a loss.  Mourning is the outward expression of grief, the social response that is openly shared with others.  Everyone grieves, but not everyone mourns.

Grief occurs in orderly, predictable stages. 
Mourning is highly individualized, according to a person
=s unique personality and life experiences, as well as the nature of the relationship with the deceased, how the death happened, the support system available to the mourner, the individual=s past experiences with loss, and the person=s religious and cultural background.      

Tears are a sign of weakness. 
In fact, crying at the death of a close loved one is a normal human response that is universal and occurs across cultures throughout the entire world.  Studies show that tears contain toxic chemicals created by the stress response, and crying is a natural and healthy way to release those toxins and the tension associated with them.

Medication is useful in relieving the pain, anxiety and depression associated with grief. 
Grief is not an illness to be cured, and the emotions attached to it are normal.  While medication may be indicated in some cases, facing grief, moving toward the pain, and openly expressing what is felt on the inside is what leads eventually to healing.  Avoidance, chemical or otherwise, causes grief to resurface in unexpected ways.  The symptoms of grief also serve as signals to the rest of us that the mourner is in need of our compassion, patience and understanding.

Most people eventually recover from grief and return to normal
Grief is not an illness from which a person recovers; rather, it is a gradual process of transformation.  When a loved one dies, a  part of the mourner dies, too.  Every aspect of life is different and forever changed, and a
Anew normal@ must be found, as the person learns to integrate the loss and live in a whole new world without the physical presence of the one who has died.  In time and over time,  the mourner learns to accommodate the loss and is forever changed by it B and often heals and grows from it to live a deeper, more meaningful life.

Time heals all wounds, and eventually grief comes to an end. 
Grief is an adaptive response that is not bound by time.  It never really ends; we don
=t Aget over@ grief.  It is something we learn to live with over time, as we gradually adjust to the physical absence of the one who has died.  Grief softens and erupts less frequently as time goes on, but it can revisit us at any time, and in varying intensity, whenever we are reminded of the loss.

Those who mourn openly are weak in their faith. 
Grief often brings on a crisis in faith, because a significant loss challenges all of a person
=s basic beliefs about the nature and fairness of the universe, the existence of a higher power, or even the very nature of God.  We cannot compete with this process; we can only wait with unconditional love, patience and compassion as the person finds his own way and mourns in the way that is best for him.

The first year of grief is the hardest, and the time when support is most needed. 
For some, the second year is even harder than the first, because the protective barrier of numbness has disappeared and by now, secondary losses are more apparent. The reality is that the mourner needs our ongoing compassion and support.

The goal of grief is to let go of the one who died and move on with life. 
The bonds of love are never severed by death, and if cherished memories and legacies are intentionally tended and nourished, it is normal and healthy that a close relationship with the deceased will continue and endure throughout a person
=s lifetime.


Copyright by Martha M. Tousley, RN, MS, FT, DCC    All rights reserved

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