“You should be over this by now.” “Don’t be sad she is in Heaven now.” “There is a silver lining in all of this.” ”There is a reason for everything.” ”God’s in charge.” ”She was such a good person; God wanted her to be with Him.” “Just Move on.” We hear varying messages like the list above in some form or iteration about this acutely painful, intimately personal, emotionally complex experience of loss, otherwise known as grief. Unfortunately, grief is often associated with a variety of harmful, inaccurate and unrealistic assumptions, misconceptions and expectations. These are common myths regarding grief:
Grief is time-limited. Grief has no time stamp even if your well-meaning aunt at Christmas less than gently encourages you that you need to get over your ex because it’s been “x” amount of time. Grief is not under the constraints of time, which leads me to the 2nd myth…
Time heals all wounds. Time does not heal all wounds. My clinical experience has taught me that, yes, time is an essential part of the grieving process, but it does not heal us on its own. Assuming “time will heal all” allows us to believe that no action is required of us to heal. Healing happens to us, yet, if you have ever experienced loss in any form, you know this to be false. We all need time to adjust to the loss and create a life where we can still find meaning in the present, in what is without dismissing or invalidating the pain of our loss. Certain losses we will never fully recover from and that is ok. We will need to create spaces for ourselves to be upset while also cultivating a life worthy of living.
Grief is about losing a loved one. Grief is not limited to the loss of a physical being, whether it be a beloved pet, relative, coworker or friend. Grief involves any type of loss, tangible or intangible. Limiting the depth and breadth of grief to the living limits our ability to grieve other losses in our lives, such as the slow distancing between friends over time, break ups with a romantic partner, fired or being let go from a job, feeling insecure due to financial instability, loss of safety due to a traumatic event, etc. Acknowledging our emotional pain in the midst of our tangible AND intangible losses will provide us the breathing room to be justifiably upset about the unfairness, brokenness and injustice that inundates our world today. Denying the reality of pain only worsens our pain turning it into unnecessary and debilitating suffering.
To have grieved well means you are not sad anymore. Grieving well is not synonymous with the absence of sadness or any other painful emotion. It is normal and natural to experience grief symptoms during specific times of the year, such as anniversaries, holidays, and life’s milestones. If you’re a spiritual person, it is ok to experience sadness and joy simultaneously when holding in tension the realities that your loved one is not hurting anymore and/or is in a better place and, at the same time, wishing with your whole being that this is all just a bad dream and you will see your loved one tomorrow morning. Grieving well is permitting yourself to be sad and angry about what you have lost while also choosing to not let painful emotions keep you from living a full, meaningful life. Grieving well is honoring what or whom is gone by living authentically and courageously in your context, in your relationships, in this moment. Do not allow the fear of being hurt, abandoned, rejected or failure keep you from loving others and yourself well, cultivating new relationships, being vulnerable, and seeking new challenges and opportunities to grow.
When navigating the topic of grief with clients in session, I like to address their relationship with grief as well as what cultural and societal factors impact their understanding of grief. Identifying these factors and exploring the implicit/explicit messages received on grief throughout their life are primary therapy goals for processing grief. As clients gain insight on their views on grief, we can move forward in addressing and dismantling harmful beliefs or assumptions about grief. The timeless “Good grief” response from Charlie Brown accurately depicts how I feel about the negative consequences that subscribing, consciously or unconsciously, to these myths can have on one’s ability to grieve well. I pray that for all of us we can lean on quality research, good friends/family and a Good God to comfort us in times of pain where silver linings will never suffice. Sources & Resources:
https://www.amenclinics.com/blog/19-worst-things-to-say-to-a-grieving-person/ https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-worksheets/grief/none https://www.bosplace.org/en/ https://brenebrown.com/podcast/david-kessler-and-brene-on-grief-and-finding-meaning/