Randy's Top 10 Grief Myths!
Randy's Top 10 Myths About Grief:
1. Grief should have a clear beginning and a clear end.
Life is unending ebb and flow of loss, transition and change. From the time of birth, where we lost the safety of our mother's womb, we have experienced loss and change. Life indeed is a never ending series of transitions through the experience of loss and change.
Sometimes when a loss is sudden-as when a loved one dies unexpectantly, the beginning of grief seems clear, but current losses can also trigger or blend in with past loss experiences. Major loss experiences (like the death of a loved one) often change us in unanticipated ways and are integrated into the fabric of our life forever.
Although healing is always possible and acute grief subsides, the impact of our loss is always with us-like a scar that has healed, and can be retriggered at important points throughout life in expected or unexpected ways. Deep losses we have experienced are always a part of us-part of our history and life story. Over time they just find a quieter place to live in our hearts.
2. Continuing a relationship bond with a deceased loved one is not healthy.
For many years the field of Grief and Bereavement was heavily influenced by Freud's 1917 paper entitled "Mourning and Melancholia". In this paper he postulated that healthy grieving involved a process of "decathexis", which meant that the griever should sever all ties with the deceased loved one by taking the emotional energy away from that relationship, and reinvest that energy in new relationships.
While it is true that the griever eventually invests energy back into new relationships to an extent, newer research has confirmed that continuing a relationship bond with the deceased loved one is a healthy, adaptive, healing, common and vital part of grieving process that can last the rest of one's life.
3. Grief has predictable stages that everyone goes through.
Elizabeth Kubler Ross' 1969 book "On Death and Dying" postulated stages that a person who is dying goes through. These well known stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance were pioneering concepts that shed light on the fact that physicians and other health professionals at that time most often avoided (like the plague) talking with terminal patients about their medical condition.
She was a pioneer who was ahead of her time and gave a "voice" to the dying patients who were not being given the emotional support they so needed. For many subsequent years, her stages have been used as a kind of "gold standard" for the stages a griever, (not the dying patient) should go through, and have been used in linear and judgemental ways by health professionals.
Contemporary research has confirmed that locking people into predictable "stages" has major limitations that is not accurate or especially helpful. Indeed, Robert A. Neimeyer, Ph.D., has articulated a modern, constructivist view of grief in his book "Lessons of Loss: A Guide to Coping" where he postulates that the experience of loss can challenge one's assumptions about life-things that are taken for granted like: what is safe or expected, or predictable, etc., and that efforts to find or reconstruct meaning from a loss is the central process of grieving.
4. Children don't really grieve, they are resilient.
Children can be amazingly resilient, after all-we were once children who "made it" to adulthood, but they do grieve-just in a differerent manner than adults. Children tend to grieve in short spurts-in brief periods of time, and can actively grieve longer than adults by grieving losses again and again as they try to make sense of their loss at subsequent developmental stages. Some children prefer to process a loss by openly talking to trusted family members, other children prefer to grieve symbolically via play activities or through engaging in ritual activities that honor the memories of the lost loved one. They also watch and take their cues from their family about what is OK and not OK to express as young grievers.
Children often have the additional burden of secondary losses on top of the primary loss. For example, if a child has lost a parent to death, they may also loose the predicatability of their daily routine-including such events like changing schools, unfamiliar caretakers or moving.
These additional losses can at times overwhelm a child's coping ability. Indeed-children are often the "forgetten mourners" who are sometimes expected to adapt to adult expectations which may not necessarily be helpful to a child's ability to cope with what has happend.
5. The goal of grief is to get back to "normal".
Experiencing the death of a loved one and other major loss experiences can challenge and sometimes shatter one's assumptions about life. Things or beliefs that were once perhaps taken for granted may no longer apply as the impact of a loss becomes fully realized. This can be a life altering process where an individual or family can come to realize that they will never be the "same"-that they will never be "normal" in the way that they once were.
So it's not really about getting back to "normal", but rather to create a "new normal" that reflects the new perspectives, attitudes, and beliefs about life that have been forged by the experience of loss.
6. Family members usually grieve in simiilar ways.
Even though family members can be similar in many ways, they are still unique individuals with unique personalities and ways of grieving. Sometimes parents and children become caught in cross purposes when they grieve at different speeds, have different intensities and have different ideas about how to remember and honor their deceased loved one.
Validating the grieving style of each person is always important, even when it's different than what might be expected.
7. Outwardly expressing grief feelings like sadness is always important.
Unique individuals (which includes all of us) grieve in unique ways. One of the ways differences in grieving have been identified has come from the work of Dr. Ken Doka. He postulates that that some grievers gravitate toward an "intuitive" type of grieving-that is to say an emotional, emotive type of grieving that focuses on feelings. Other individuals tend to gravitate toward an "instrumental" grieving-which is a style of grieving that focusing more on action, on expressing oneself via doing things rather than expressing feelings directly.
Though we are a blend of these styles-individuals do tend to prefer one style over the other style. What appears to be most important-is for the energy that comes from experiencing loss be expressed in some meaningful way. The saying "I don't get mad, I get even" is an example of an instrumental griever who could channel their energy into correcting an injustice-say for instance by changing an injust or flawed law or by bringing increased awareness to an issue-like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.) have done.
8. Other people "understand" what your going through.
No one can fully understand what you are experiencing as a griever, because your grief is unique to you and your life experiences. No one else can be the true expert on your grief experience.
Perhaps this is an existential reality of life-that on some levels we grieve alone-with our own thoughts and pain. You are truly, the true expert on your own grief-on what you are experiencing. Question 9 highlights this point further.
9. Family and Friends know what to say to a grieving person.
Family have friends have the best of intentions but often feel uncomfortable witnessing the pain of the griever and tend to offer cliche's to hurry the grief process along. Ellen S, Zinner, Psy.D. from "The Center for Loss and Grief Therapy" has identified four common categories offered to grievers: The "Be Strong" Cliche's (Translation: "Don't cry in front of me!"), Discounting Cliche's (Translation: "You don't know how lucky you are!"), , Religious Based Cliche's (Translation: "How can you even be sad?") and the "Get on With Life" Cliche's (Translation: "We're tired of hearing this!).
Examples include: "Your the man (woman) of the house now", "Men (woman) don't cry", "She would have been a burden to all of you", "It's nature's way", "Your still young", "It was God's will", "God needs him more than you", "You should be over this by now", "Tears won't bring him back", "I know just how you feel", etc., etc.
If you tempted to use of a cliche to reduce the discomfort of the situation, just remember that what the griever values most is your presence, your patience, and your listening ear. It's really OK to say: "I don't know what to say"..."I'm so sorry for the loss you have suffered"..."I can only imagine how hard this must be for you", etc.
10. Nothing positive ever comes from losing a loved one.
As paradoxical as it may seem, research on the positive benefits of experiencing the death of a loved one done by Thomas Frantz, Megan Farrell and Barbara Trolley indicate that for the majority of grievers-often with the passage of years-positive benefits emerge.
Their major positive findings include: the griever's increased appreciation for the value of life, the griever's increased mental toughness and ability of doing tasks not done before as a result of surviving the pain of death, and the griever becoming closer to loved ones and friends (as compared to before the loved one's death) by not taking them for granted and expressing love more often.
These findings do not in any way take away or diminish the pain and devastation of loss, but rather highlights the resiliency of the human spirit to slowly "emerge as the dawn of healing replaces the lonely darkness of grief".
Even in the darkest of times-over time, it is possible to heal and to love and laugh once again! So take heart-and may your heart be blessed!