Five Myths About Grief

When it comes to grief and the mourning process you may find that many people have an opinion regarding how you should act and what your grief should look like. Unfortunately, many of these opinions are wrong and can hinder your grief journey more than help. Many times people simply repeat what they have heard others say, and unknowingly, pass on myths about grief.

There are a lot of myths about grief but we would like to focus on only five of what may be the most commonly expressed. If you have any questions about these or other grief myths, feel free to contact us at (302) 999-8277 or by e-mail at bereavement@dohertyfh.com.

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Perhaps Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt said it best when he said, "To think that we as human beings get over grief is ridiculous! We never get over our grief but instead become reconciled to it" (Wolfelt, 2000).

Grief is not like a headache that goes away with medication and rest. Neither is grief like a broken arm that is set in place and mended in a few weeks time. Grief is not an event that has a set ending point, it is a life-long process. Once experienced, it is always with us. It has been observed that grief "may be more like learning to manage the permanent loss of a limb than allowing a wound to heal" (Corr, Nabe, & Corr, 2003).

This could not be further from the truth. The truth is, no two people ever grieve exactly the same way. Grief is very unique to every individual and with every death experience. The way that a person grieves is dependant upon various factors. According to Corr, Nabe, and Corr (2003 p. 215-217), there are five variables that influence the way people grieve. These five variables are:

  1. The relationship of the individual with the deceased,
  2. The circumstances surrounding the death,
  3. The personality of the bereaved,
  4. The developmental situation of the bereaved person, "that is, how one's being a child, adolescent, adult, or elderly person influences one's grief and mourning",
  5. The support system that the bereaved person has and how effective the support system is.

That is why even both parents will grieve the loss of their child differently from each other.

Even though some women may feel this way, it is generally the men in our society that think if they let themselves cry they are showing weakness. This is not true. In grief, tears are not a sign of weakness, they are a sign of having loved an individual who has died. We cry because of our loss, and sometimes because of the loss someone else has experienced.

Men are many times afraid of the vulnerability that crying brings. Men, like everyone else, need to allow themselves to express their emotions, especially in grief (Westberg, 1985, p. 26). Dr. Glen W. Davidson has observed that when people deny or repress their grief, our society sometimes will think they are handling it well because they do not "break down" or "fall apart" emotionally. When in fact, they are in great pain (Davidson, 1984, p.29-30).

In fact, "tears do relieve emotional stress" and there has been some thought "that tears may have potential healing value" (Worden, 2002, p. 20). So, if you can not let yourself cry in front of other people, go to some private place and allow yourself the freedom to let your emotions flow. You will be better off because you did.

This is also not true. Even the most religious person may not be comforted with words like, "At least she is in a better place", or "You know you will see him again". To say such things is to deny the person's pain and grief. Their inward response might be, "I know, but I want him here with me now".

Some times "religious" sayings are a great comfort to the grieving. Many times they are not. To assume that a Scripture verse or religious thought will be comforting is the wrong assumption to make. It is most thoughtful and caring to allow yourself to be quiet and listen to the bereaved and allow them to express their thoughts and emotions no matter what they may be. If you ask the person who is grieving if they think it would be helpful to them, then it is appropriate to read scripture or quote a verse.

The only people who will say this are those who did not lose a close family member as a child. Some people think this is true because smaller children don't fully understand death and it's finality. However, "Grief does not focus on one's ability to "understand", but instead upon one's ability to "feel". Any child mature enough to love is mature enough to grieve" (Wolfelt, 1998, p. 20). Dr. J. William Worden writes, "Children do mourn", they simply do not mourn the same as adults (Worden, 2002, p. 159-163).

It is true that sometimes children do not seem to be affected at all when they are told about a death. "They may carry on with "life as usual" and show no outward signs of being impacted". They do not always express how they really feel. "Some children are unable to pinpoint how they feel" (The Dougy Center, 1997, p.6). Even so, they do grieve and they need to be given the freedom to grieve in their own way.

For more information concerning how children grieve, feel free to contact us at (302) 999-8277 or by e-mail at bereavement@dohertyfh.com or visit our Children & Grief section of this website for a wealth of helpful information concerning how children grieve and how to help them through that difficult aspect of life.

You may also contact Supporting Kidds: The Center for Grieving Children and Their Families located in Hockessin, DE by calling (302) 235-5544.


References

  1. Corr, C. A., Nabe, C. M., & Corr, D. M. (2003). Death and dying, life and living (4th ed.). Belmont, Ga.: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
  2. Davidson, G. W. (1984). Understanding mourning: A guide to those who grieve. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House.
  3. Dougy Center, The (1997). Helping children cope with death. Portland, Or.: The Dougy Center For Grieving Children.
  4. Westberg, G. E. (1985). Good grief: A constructive approach to the problem of loss. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
  5. Wolfelt, A. D. (1998). Helping children cope with grief. Bristol, Pa.: Accelerated Development.
  6. Wolfelt, A. D. (2000). Helping dispel 5 common myths about grief. Batesville, In.: Batesville Management Services.
  7. Worden. J. W. (2002). Grief counseling and grief therapy: A handbook for the mental health practitioner (3rd. Ed.). New York: Springer Publishing Co., Inc.


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