KEY POINTS Grief is not finite, and learning to reframe it as a process can aid recovery. Recognizing grief myths can help loss survivors and their loved ones navigate the grieving process more effectively. Survivors can and do, learn to reconstruct their lives around grief.
Grief is haunting. It has a way of seeping into every crack and filling up spaces that were once brimming with other emotions – and are now left empty and vulnerable. Many people struggling with losing a loved one are desperately searching for ways to make everything go back to “normal” again, but when it comes to grief and loss, there really is no normal. Every person grieves in a unique way, and it could be unhealthy for that process if it’s started with an expectation that grief will just go away one day.
Myths About Grief
Grief is all-encompassing, despite many societal norms that attempt to dictate otherwise. Grieving individuals need to recognize the grief myths they hear–these can do more harm than good when trying to navigate loss: “Try not to think about it.” – Although this likely comes from a positive place, with hopes of distracting grieving people for a moment to lessen their pain, it is unrealistic to expect that a major life loss can be shelved when it becomes inconvenient or too painful. After the loss of a loved one, there will never be a day that you wake up and do not think about or remember them—and their disappearance from your life—in some way. Some loss survivors might instead welcome the opportunity to freely think and talk about their grief, and offering support in the form of “I’m here if you need someone to listen” or “I understand it’s hard to think about anything else” could be healing in and of itself. “Keep up your normal routines.” – This is typically an attempt to help grieving people move forward, prevent them from stagnating and getting “stuck” in their sadness; it can also be a positive effort to stop them from cycling into depression. Unfortunately, it often also causes negative emotions – guilt that they somehow are not meeting their responsibilities or confusion as to how life could go on when a gaping hole has been carved out of it. When a loved one suddenly vanishes, there are likely no routines that won’t be affected. Every single moment of every single day, particularly in the first months following a loss, will be impacted and changed in some way. Once again, “normal” is irrelevant because there is no longer a normal routine, a normal schedule, or a normal day to be expected. It could be more helpful to share a simple “Let me know if you need help with the daily things that need to be done” or even just drop off groceries and offer to run simple errands for them. “Talking about the person who is gone will make it worse.” – Despite the practical sound of this advice, it goes against the way our bodies and minds grieve. This reaction can make survivors feel as if their ever-present thoughts and emotions are wrong when in reality, there is no wrong way to grieve. In fact, sensing an ability to share memories and sentiments about lost loved ones can open up new pathways to healing – especially if grievers are given the freedom to recount both positive and negative feelings. article continues after advertisement We often close off a method of escape for our grief by disallowing ourselves to talk about the person we have lost. The reactions of those around us greatly influence our ability to access this therapeutic relief. When someone is grieving, bring up the person they have lost in natural conversation – just because they are no longer physically present does not equate to that person being absent in thought as well. If people suffering with loss don’t want to talk about their loved one, they will tell you, but in most cases, it will be comforting to know that their loved ones have not disappeared from your thoughts either. “Try to keep a happy attitude.” – Likely shared as an effort to boost a grieving person’s mood. This guidance has the opposite effect. Often, loss victims can feel anger in response to others’ attempts at improving their mood simply because they need someone to validate their emotions. No different than an abuse victim who can be empowered by others who believe their trauma, grief, and loss victims need a support system that allows them space for both negative and positive emotions. This is not to say that focusing only on the devastation grief brings is the best option, but rather normalizing our experience of guilt, rage, fear, and others gives these feelings an outlet and can take away some of their power. Attempting to stuff negative emotions because they cause discomfort never works – and can make them cognitively larger than life. If you are grieving or trying to help someone through the grief process, permit them to feel comfortable expressing any emotion, not just those that reassure you.
Grief Changes Everything
In essence, grief alters every piece of a survivor’s existence – and this can even be positive in some ways once the initial shock lessens, and healing begins. Life can be rebuilt, but the most important takeaway is not to expect grief to go away. Grief will be a companion. It can be a destructive one, but it can also be an empowering one. Survivors can and do, learn to reconstruct their lives around grief. Expecting yourself or others to restore your life without the immense hole that has been left in it is unrealistic and detrimental to recovery. Permit yourself to see your grief as an expression of love that you can no longer physically show someone who has been taken from you. Just as love is fluid, so is grief. Just as there is no one “right” way to love, there is no one “right” way to grieve. Instead of expecting grief to disappear, expect yourself to learn how to live around it, through it, and despite it.
Source: Psychology Today