Some beliefs about grief hinder resolution. In fact, they can be so strong as to be toxic. When a loved one dies, we feel hurt. But, because the emotional pain is so strong, or so difficult to face, some work at not feeling it. Many people who “bear up” or “do so well” in initial stages later develop chronic low-grade depression, anxiety and/or addictions. Recent studies link unreconciled grief to a variety of physical ailments: fatigue, headache, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Many people harbor one or more toxic myths, or misconceptions about grief. Here are the five most common–and most dangerous.
1. Grief and mourning are the same
Grief comprises all the feelings and thoughts we experience when we lose someone close. Mourning expresses those feeling outside ourselves. The words are not interchangeable. In mourning we talk about the person who died; cry; celebrate anniversaries that are meaningful to our lost loved one. If we grieve, but don’t honor the loved one (mourn), grief accumulates. Avoided or denied losses seep out as depression or physical symptoms. that compounds our loss.
2. Move away from grief–quickly
“Clear out your desk,” says the boss, “you’re terminated.” In business, loyal employees are “terminated” (euphemism) abruptly–no time to prepare, say good-bye, or grieve the loss of a job, relationships, or friendships. In death, we expect the bereaved “back to normal” soon, or they’re perhaps, “feeling sorry for themselves.” Getting the message, we avoid grieving: working overtime, using alcohol, staying distracted. That creates anxiety, confusion, and depression. Instead, when you feel sad, stop to allow yourself to experience the pain by talking with someone or writing about it.
3. Grief mostly concerns the physical loss
The death of a loved one creates many secondary losses, connections with yourself and the world. You can feel a loss of identity. “I feel like a part of me has died,” a widow once told me. If you’re a widow now alone in your home, you can feel loss of security. You can feel the loss of meaning, as when my sister died and I had to give up my dream of getting closer to her. So eat well (physical), claim your right to feel and talk about your emotions (emotional). Ask, What do I want, now? What can I do? What can I do today? Also ask, Who needs me? What skills and experience can you use to benefit others? Find a grief buddy who’s been through something similar, support group (churches, hospices, funeral homes may know where).
4. The goal: get over it.
“Grief is not a problem to be solved or an illness from which you recover,” says Dr. Alan Wolfelt, leader in death education. “Rather, you become reconciled to your grief,” as you learn how to move forward without your loved one.
5. Once reconciled, grief and mourning never reappear
Like the tide, grief rises and lowers. A particular experience can trigger grief years later. You may always feel grief, in the background, but it won’t dominate your life.
If you have a grief you can’t get through, why not seek the counsel of your pastor, doctor, or counselor?
[Source: 5 Toxic Misconceptions About Grief, Alan Wolfert, PhD, certified thanatologist. Bottom Line Health, May 2015, 13.]