Toxic Positivity in Grief

When I first started devouring information about the grieving process after Libby died, I remember immediately being turned off by the overly negative messaging on social media and in some books about grief. People who were YEARS and YEARS out from losing their loved ones were still crying daily, unable to function.

In one particular Facebook group, a member mentioned that she had lost her thirty-seven-year-old son TWENTY-TWO years earlier and still cried every day. And there she was, still in a social media grief group, complaining about her life.

It was the most fucking depressing thing I had ever read. It nearly completely robbed me of hope that my life would eventually become anything worth living. I will not spend the next twenty years of my life wallowing in misery, I vowed to myself.

After that, I searched for more positive grief-related support, and I found it in droves. The problem, however, was that I kept running into toxically positive messages that didn’t resonate with me at all. Toxic positivity can be found everywhere (Think messages like “Good vibes only!” and “Just keep swimming!”—or the entire girl-boss culture).

Overly Positive Messages

I don’t think these things are totally bad—I mean, I have a window sticker on my car that says BE A KIND HUMAN and another that says Go Where You Feel Most Alive, so I’ve clearly bought into the fake-it-till-you-make-it suburban mom trends too, y’all. I’m just saying that when it came to grief, many overly positive messages make me want to hurl.

For example, if you come at me with “Everything happens for a reason,” I’m going to want to know what your reason is for why my beautiful, ten-year-old child, who had never done anything but make people’s lives brighter, died in a horrible car accident.

Cliches Can Be Hurtful

Anything that starts with, “At least . . .” also makes me bristle. So, please resist the temptation to say, “At least she had a happy life,” “At least she died quickly,” or “At least you still have other children.”

Perhaps. But her life wasn’t supposed to be so short . . . and think about all the milestones she’ll never reach. And … I didn’t get to say goodbye. And . . . which of YOUR children would you trade for another? I would’ve liked to keep all three of mine, thank you very much.

Another problem I ran into was that many of the websites and programs I found were religious in nature, which didn’t help me, as I’m not religious. I know that other people might feel better thinking that their loved ones are in heaven or that they’ll see them again when they die, or that Jesus/God/Allah/Jehovah/Spirit called them home, but those things didn’t, and still don’t, bring me any comfort at all.

I have never seen any “signs” from my loved ones; and my beliefs are much more scientific than spiritual. Indeed, I discovered a gaping void in the grief space when it came to secular support that left me feeling very alone. What I needed was nonreligious grief support based on researched practices.

Read more by Brooke Carlock at Grieving Mommy: One Mama’s Journey Through Child Loss/Grieving Mommy: a grieving mom’s journey through child loss

Check out Brooke’s other writing on Open to Hope‘You’re SO Strong’: A Misunderstanding of Grief – Open to Hope

Brooke Carlock

Brooke Carlock has been punched in the face by grief on more than a few occasions, but she keeps getting back up and hopes to inspire others to do the same. She is the creator of the “Grief Sucks with Brooke Carlock” YouTube Channel and host of the “Mourning Coffee” Podcast, and cofounder of Live Like Libby, a nonprofit organization that provides dance scholarships in her late daughter’s honor. She has also been a middle school English teacher and freelance writer since earning a bachelor’s degree in English from West Virginia University and a master’s degree in Teaching from Johns Hopkins University. Her writing has been featured on, Open to Hope, Scary Mommy, and Filter Free Parents. Now an empty nester, Brooke resides in a tiny house by herself, which makes her introverted heart happy. When she’s not making videos, providing grief support, writing books, or wrangling middle schoolers, she enjoys reading historical fiction, baking, and going to farmers markets. She lives in a small town in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

More Articles Written by Brooke