Myths and Realities about the Nature of Grief
In Western society we are socialized to regard certain beliefs and attitudes about what makes up a normal grief response, many of which are inaccurate and untrue. These common misconceptions and myths then become part of our cultural beliefs of the grieving process. We are raised with incorrect information that ultimately leads to unrealistic expectations of those going through the grief process. We expect people to "Get over it" "Let it go" and "Move on" especially if the grieving process last too long, which is often regarded as only a few weeks.
I remember being struck by how quickly we, as a nation, were expected to "move on" following the devastating events of September 11, 2001. After two weeks of public mourning (outward expression of grief), the flags were returned to full mast, a signal by the White House that it was time to move on.
Misconceptions & Myths
Often when dealing with someone who is grieving we feel a need to change how that person is feeling about grief. In an awkward attempt to make the grieving person feel better people turn to clichés such as "You must be strong," "You have to get on with your life," or "It's good that he didn't have to suffer" which may cause additional distress.
Western society also promotes the misconception that it is inappropriate to show any kind of grief emotions anywhere else but the funeral. There is also the implicit expectation that after two weeks one should be "over it." People in the workforce are expected to return to work after their two weeks of bereavement leave with their grief still fresh and get back to normal. Recovery from the loss or the death should definitely be completed within six months, supporting the common myth about grief that it actually ends.
These misconceptions about the grieving process can make the process more difficult and more painful for those going through it. Being around people who believe and perpetuate the myths and misconceptions can make it more difficult for those who are grieving; this misinformation may actually hinder the recovery process by not allowing the grieving person to be supported by understanding family and friends as the person goes through the process in his or her own way and at his or her own pace.
Dispelling the Misconceptions & Myths through Education
Education is one of the best ways of dispelling the misconceptions and myths about grief. Through education the public and professionals become more knowledgeable and aware that grief is a normal response to loss. People will also have a better understanding of what is part of a normal grief response. Dispelling the myths will help those grieving a loss by raising awareness and making it easier for them to go through the process.
Encouraging Time to Assimilate the Loss
Since these myths and misconceptions are so pervasive in our popular culture it is no wonder that a grieving person may feel abnormal or that they are doing it wrong if his or her experience last more than a few weeks. The grieving person may feel that he or she is "going crazy" if they experience intense emotions or physical symptoms along with their grief. We should be encouraging those who are grieving to find the resources needed to assimilate the loss into a life forever changed in their own way and in their own time.
The remaining part of this article includes many of the common myths about the nature, the timing, the emotions and symptoms of grief and ways of coping with grief and the realities about the grieving process.
© 2006. Kirsti A. Dyer MD, MS, FT. Licensed for use to About.com