Grief is a natural response to the loss of something valued. Myths are falsehoods parading as gospel truths. Combined they lead to much excessive emotional and physical pain when mourning.
If you mourn according to myth it means you have adopted false beliefs about grief and how to cope with the loss of a loved one. The solution is clear: obtain information to form beliefs that are true for you and discard old beliefs that were handed down to you when you were young.
There are many myths about grief. Here are five of the most common and what you can do to reverse your thinking and reduce the unnecessary suffering they often inflict.
1. There is an orderly stage like progression in the grief process. In truth, this has yet to be decided by researchers. Right now the best information says grief is highly individual. It could take months or years depending on the nature of the death and the degree of emotional investment in the person who died. And grief has many ups and downs and revisits.
Do not set limits or expectations. Allow your grief to move through its natural responses according to you. There is no right way to grieve.
2. You have to “let go” of the person who died. Letting go of the deceased is often interpreted as having to forget about the deceased and get on with life. In fact, the relationship with the deceased never ends; it changes. Establishing a new relationship with the deceased through memory, celebration, new traditions, and the intent to learn to love in separation is part of adapting to loss.
3. The longer you mourn the more you show your love for the deceased. Some individuals accept the loss of their loved one and are able to begin reinvesting in their new life without the physical presence of their loved one. Others hesitate to fully embrace their new life because they believe it will indicate a lack of true love for the deceased. Consequently, they refuse invitations to social gatherings or refrain from other pleasurable pursuits. Remember that love never dies, and we honor our deceased loved ones by continuing to grow into the next chapter of our lives.
4. Time heals all wounds. Time does not heal all wounds unless the mourner addresses the tasks of grief, starts new routines, faces the pain, and establishes a new relationship with the deceased loved one. Or as a dear friend of mine put it, “Time doesn’t heal all wounds, unless you work between the minutes.” Taking action to heal is a choice and the best way to prevent generating emotional poison through isolation and waiting to get better.
5. Mourning should end after the first anniversary of the death. Those who hold on to this myth often lengthen their grief work and/or inhibit the natural grief responses that occur after one year. For many, the major part of grief recedes after five or six months for others it takes considerably longer. There is no specific time limit applicable to all.
In summary, myths are beliefs we choose and in terms of the grief process usually cause additional pain and suffering. Make every effort to seek out those who are knowledgeable about coping with loss and the changes it imposes. Ask questions.
Be open to the new as well as an analysis of your beliefs about grief and loss and how you adopted them. Then find a grief companion who is a good listener, and work toward intellectual and emotional acceptance of the death of your loved one.
Dr. Lou LaGrand is a grief counselor and the author of eight books, the most recent, Love Lives On: Learning from the Extraordinary Encounters of the Bereaved. He is known world-wide for his research on the Extraordinary Experiences of the bereaved (after-death communication phenomena) and is one of the founders of Hospice of the St. Lawrence Valley, Inc. His website is http://www.extraordinarygriefexperiences.com.