Here are 8 of the most common myths and realities about grief. Knowledge of these issues is extremely helpful for both the bereaved and those wishing to help them.
Myth #1. “It has been a year since your spouse died. Don’t you think you should be dating by now?”
Reality. It is impossible to simply “replace” a loved one. Each relationship is unique, and it takes a very long time to build a relationship of love. It also takes a very long time to say goodbye, and until goodbye has really been said, it is impossible to move on to a new relationship that will be complete and satisfying.”
Myth #2. “You look so well!”
Reality. The bereaved do look like the non-bereaved on the outside but inside, they experience a wide range of chaotic emotions – shock, numbness, anger, disbelief, betrayal, rage, regret, remorse, guilt, etc. These feeling are intense and confusing.
Grievers feel misunderstood and further isolated when people comment in astonishment, “You look so well!” Helpful responses should simply and quietly acknowledge their pain and suffering through statements such as “This must be very difficult for you,” “I am so sorry,” “How can I help?” or “What can I do?”
Myth #3. “The best thing we can do (for the griever) is to avoid discussing the loss.”
Reality. The bereaved need and want to talk about their loss, including the minutest details connected to it. Grief shared is grief diminished. Each time a griever talks about the loss, a layer of pain is shed.
Myth #4. “It has been six (or nine or 12) months now. Don’t you think you should be over it?”
Reality. There is no quick fix for the pain of bereavement. Of course, grievers wish they could be over it in six months. Grief is a deep wound and takes a long time to heal, and that time frame differs from person to person according to their unique circumstances.
Research shows an average recovery time from 18 to 24 months.
Myth #5. “You need to be more active and get out more!”
Reality. Encouraging the bereaved to maintain their social, civic and religious ties is healthy. Grievers should not withdraw completely and isolate themselves from others. However, it is not helpful to pressure the bereaved into excessive activity. Erroneously, some caregivers try to help the grieving “escape” from their grief through trips or excessive activity.
Myth #6. “Funerals are too depressing!”
A service, funeral or memorial provides mourners with a place to express the feelings and emotions of grief. The service is a time to express those feelings, talk about the loved one and begin the acceptance of death. The funeral brings together a community of mourners who can support each other through this difficult time.
Myth #7. “You are young, and you can get married again,” or “Your loved one is no longer in pain now. Be thankful for that.”
Reality. Avoid making any statements that minimise the loss such as, “He’s in a better place now,” “You can have other children,” or “You’ll find someone else to share your life with.” It is more therapeutic to simply listen compassionately, say little and do whatever you can to help ease burdens.
Myth #8. “She cries a lot. I’m concerned she is going to have a nervous breakdown.”
Reality. Tears are nature’s safety valves. Crying washes away toxins from the body that are produced during trauma. That may be the reason so many people feel better after a good cry.
“Crying discharges tension, the accumulation of feeling associated with whatever problem is causing the crying. Stress causes imbalance and crying restores balance. It relieves the central nervous system of tension. If we don’t cry, that tension doesn’t go away.” Caregivers should get comfortable at seeing tears from the bereaved and supporting their crying.