Recently, TIME magazine published an article, “New Ways to Think About Grief,” by Ruth Davis Konigsberg and it listed several myths on grief.  Open to Hope contributing writer Suzy Yehl Marta, founder of Rainbows For All Children, wrote a letter to the editor, copied here:

Dear Ruth,

Thank you for your recent article, “New Ways to Think About Grief” on Jan. 29. I know you write frequently and in depth on grief, including in your blog and book, The Truth About Grief. Because you touch so many hearts and minds on this topic, I would love the opportunity to share my experiences of more than 30 years of working with 2.5 million children and teens going through grief through the international nonprofit Rainbows For All Children.

Most importantly, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s book, On Death and Dying, sets her as a pioneer on grief and frankly should be considered the patron saint of grief.  You mention that practitioners grabbed on to her Five Stages of Grief because they’re so prescriptive.  Rather, the practitioners likely used the Stages because they are, in fact, true.  So while Kübler-Ross may have only done interviews one-on-one when she was facing her death, the other practitioners found this process useful in their continued support groups, books or the liking.

Specifically, of all the mythmaking, the following struck me the most:

Myth No. 2: Express It; Don’t Repress It

Telling one’s story again and again of what happened and how they are feeling today is a way to honor the love and relationship one had with the deceased.  In the last 30 years of supporting bereaved children and adults, expressing the grief frees them from the torture of loss.  It allows them to have their emotions acknowledged, while giving them the skills and guidance to process what has happened and find the hope and courage that is embedded in the center of loss.

Grief is challenging and it must be worked through. Grief is of the mind, the heart and the body.  Initially, it is hard work just to get up in the morning.  That said, certainly some just deal with the pain by jumping right back into their ordinary days.  If that works for them, then that’s fantastic.  But the hardening reality is they’re in denial and there’s a deep seated pain of loss that’s buried in the busy-ness.  In that case, grief can reappear years later and expressed through depression, illness, withdrawal, or inappropriate reactions to another significant loss.

To that, in more than 75 percent of the last decade’s school shootings, the attackers had experienced a major loss before the incident.[1]

There is a huge difference between a person functioning through life and thriving after a loss. I can provide you with countless examples for a future article on grief.  Many of the studies used had such a small sampling to make a substantial case.

Myth No. 4 & 5: Grief Never Ends and Counseling Helps

Unfortunately, it’s the thinking represented in this mythmaking that sets back society’s understanding and reactions to grief and bereavement.

We must remember that humans simply cannot accept death of a loved one immediately. Grief is not an illness to be diagnosed or treated.  It is a natural and normal way for our hearts and minds to let go of someone who was important or significant to us. This takes time and it varies with each individual. There is no clock or calendar.   What often does happen is the bereaved one’s circle of support becomes uncomfortable with the profound sadness or tears as we as a society want or hope the bereaved will carry on quickly.

Working on the world of grief, I continually send the message to the bereaved it takes time to fully embrace life after the dramatic change but it will happen.

While few people – children or adults – need “counseling” in the purest sense, I strongly maintain that the majority of society needs a safe, emotional place to wrestle with their losses. They need an outlet to talk, write and reflect through their losses to best determine what is life like without this person’s presence in my life?

Kind regards,

Suzy Yehl Marta

[1] Vossekuil, B., Reddy, M., Fein, R., Borum, R., & Modzeleski, W (2000) U.S.S.S. Safe School Initiative: An Interim Report on the Prevention of Targeted Violence in Schools. Washington, DC: U.S. Secret Service, National Threat Assessment Center.

Suzy Yehl Marta

Suzy Yehl Marta, a divorced mother of three sons, gave up the security of her three jobs to do something she knew in her heart had to be done for our youth who were grieving a life-changing loss. She established Rainbows, now the world’s largest not-for-profit organization dedicated solely to helping families cope with loss. While growing up, Suzy dreamed of being a good wife and mother. She never considered the possibility of divorce and was devastated when her marriage ended. She was relieved when family and friends told her there was no need to worry about her kids. “They’re resilient. They’ll bounce back,” she was told. But soon Suzy realized her sons were hurting as much as she was. She searched for the type of support that she was receiving as an adult. There was no place accessible for them to talk about what they were feeling. Certainly, there was therapy available, which she tried. At the end of the counseling session, she was advised not to return. The therapist said they were just fine adjusting to their loss. But he never told them how to do it. What Suzy learned later was that they were all grieving the death of their nuclear family. In addition, her sons needed to be with other children their age going through the same experiences so they could understand their feelings. Working with other concerned single parents, Suzy began organizing weekend retreats for children in single-parent and step-family homes. In three years, more than 800 youth benefited from the retreats. After hearing their stories, Suzy was compelled to do more. She began working on a formal curriculum- the foundation of Rainbows. Rainbows has served nearly 2 million youth throughout the U.S. and 16 countries. Now the nation’s largest not-for-profit organization dedicated solely to helping families cope with loss.

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