Lesson 2: The Five Myths of Grief

“Sorrow makes us all children again – destroys all differences of intellect. 
The wisest know nothing.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

In ancient times, stoic philosophers encouraged their followers not to mourn. Self-control was the appropriate response to sorrow and grief. Western European cultures throughout the Middle Ages perpetuated this philosophy. Still today well-intentioned but acculturated people carry on this tradition.

The unfortunate reality is that many grievers do not give themselves permission or receive permission from others to mourn and to express their many thoughts and feelings, their grief. We live in a society that encourages people to move away from their grief instead of toward it. The result is that many people either grieve in isolation or attempt to suppress their grief through various means.

One of the reasons for many bereaved people’s preoccupation with the very question “how long does grief last?” is often related to society’s impatience with grief, and the desire to reach “closure” and “move on” with life. Shortly after the funeral the grieving person is expected to get “back to normal.”

People who continue to express their grief and mourn outwardly are often viewed as “weak,” “crazy,” or “self-pitying”. The common message is “shape up and get on with your life.” As a result, most people view grief as something to be overcome rather than experienced.

 

5 Common Myths about Grief (1)

 

  1. Grief and mourning are the same experience.
  2. There is a predictable and orderly stage-like progression to the process of mourning.
  3. It is best to move away from grief, instead of toward it.
  4. Following the death of someone significant to you, the goal is to “get over it”.
  5. Tears expressing grief are a sign of weakness.

 

Refusing to allow tears, suffering in silence, and “being strong” are thought to be admirable behaviors. Many people in grief have internalized society’s message that mourning should be done quietly, quickly, and efficiently. The result of these myths is the repression of the griever’s thoughts and feelings.

Returning to the routine of work shortly after the death of a loved one, a bereaved person mimes “I’m fine,” in essence saying “I’m not mourning” or “I’m over it now.” Friends, family and co-workers often encourage this stance, and refrain from talking about the deceased, never mentioning his or her name. The bereaved person showing an apparent absence of mourning tends to be more socially accepted by those around him or her. And yet she grieves alone, suffers in silence, feels isolated from society, as if everyone but her has “moved on.”

This type of collaborative pretense does not meet the needs (emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual) of the bereaved person. Instead, she is likely to feel further isolated in the experience of grief, with the eventual onset of the “going crazy syndrome” experiencing internal anxiety and confusion. With little or no social recognition related to the pain of the grief, she often begins to think her thoughts and feelings are abnormal, that there is something “wrong with me.”

(1) Wolfelt, A. Helping Dispel 5 Myths about Grief. 2007. http://www.centerforloss.com/index.php?s=myths+of+grief&x=0&y=0 (accessed 2007).

 

Reflection

Take some quiet time to reflect on the following questions and write down your responses.

  1. During your grieving, have you encountered any of these myths from others or even in your own beliefs? If so, what were they and how did they affect your grieving/mourning process?
  2. What helpful things did people say or do? How did those affect you?
  3. Can you think of any other myths about grief and mourning?