Suffering comes in all shapes and sizes, and grief is one of the responses to the many losses that we experience throughout our lifetimes. The sorrow that we experience is a part of our healing journey after the death of a loved one or other significant loss.
There are many different types of grief, causing a different reaction in each person who experiences it. No two individuals will share the same pain and experience after a tragic event occurs.
Understanding how to separate fact from fiction when it comes to grieving may help you move toward healing and a healthy recovery over time. Working your way through your grief may take time. You can expect there to be challenges as well as reprieves at times over others.
Learning to dispel the myths about how you experience suffering will help you learn to cope with your loss. The following are some of the more common misconceptions about grief and what you can expect.
1. Grief is linear
One of the biggest myths about grief is that it happens in stages and continues on a strictly linear path toward healing.
While everyone's pain and suffering will eventually carve out a way to arrive at healing, it doesn't necessarily happen in the stages that many grief professionals outline. In 1969, the famed psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross published her grief healing model, where she coined the five stages of grief.
In her work, she describes how we all generally experience grief in these linear stages: denial, anger bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The reality is that not everyone shares all of these stages of grief. Some people won't go through any of them, while others will experience only some steps or a different order altogether.
The Kübler-Ross model sets the stage for understanding the grief process, but everyone's experience will be different in reality. You can expect that your feelings and emotions fluctuate from day to day as you go through this journey.
2. You should move on after one year
The myth that it takes one year to get over a significant loss or the death of a loved one puts a lot of pressure on the bereaved to get their grief right. Not every type of setback takes a year to get through, and most significant losses can cause you to grieve for longer than a year.
The 12-month guideline to get through your grief is typical for normal grief but is not an indicator of how long grief lasts for everyone. In the first year, you'll be learning to accept your loss. There'll be many changes in your life and routine that may not become apparent until well after the first twelve months.
One year is simply not enough time to get used to your new life without your loved one in it. Mostly when they were a significant part of your everyday life. Remind yourself that there's no timeline for grieving.
There is no magical cure from pain and suffering once you reach the first year milestone. You can expect your grief to lessen over time, but be aware that it may creep back in when least expected, even years down the line.
3. Time heals all wounds
A common misconception about grief is that it’ll go away all on its own with time. Time alone does not heal all wounds. It would help if you actively worked towards healing your grief. The grief work that follows a significant loss can include things such as:
- Accepting your loss
- Honoring your grief
- Participating in grief rituals
- Reaching out to others for support
- Seeking and receiving grief counseling
While most grief will heal on its own in time, not all types of grief go away on their own. When grief is complicated, it tends to develop into chronic grief leading to depression or other significant health issues.
4. Women grieve more than men
Grief is profoundly personal, and you can't generalize or make assumptions about gender differences in suffering. While women are more likely than men to display their grief publicly, this isn't an indicator that women grieve while men don't. Both men and women suffer. There are, however, gender-based associations with different styles of grieving.
The feminine way of grieving is associated with a public display of mourning while seeking support from others. The masculine form of grieving is more closely associated with withdrawing from others, taking action, and keeping busy to work through grief.
A person's gender does not determine their grieving style. Men can exhibit feminine styles of grieving, and women can grieve in a masculine way.
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5. Grief and mourning are the same
There are differences in mourning versus grief. While they can stem from the same experience, they aren't the same thing. Grief is the internalization of feelings and emotions associated with loss, while mourning is the public display of grief. When a person is said to be in mourning, it's usually the period immediately following a significant loss.
For some people, it tends to last for a few days or weeks. For others, mourning can last for several weeks or a few months. Grief, on the other hand, can last for years. Some people's suffering will last a lifetime. Some of the signs of grief are emotional numbness, pining for a deceased loved one, despair, and disorganization.
Mourning is associated with death rituals such as crying at funerals or memorial services, wearing black to the funeral, and abstaining from certain activities for a set number of days following a death.
6. Grief has an endpoint
Grief doesn't always have a defined endpoint. There's no mathematical equation that will determine when grief will end or how long your suffering will last. The best you can hope for is that your grief will follow some of the standard time frames associated with normal grief reactions.
For many people, grief can last for many years following a loved one's death or a significant loss in their lives. Expecting to do nothing while waiting for the day for your grief to come to an end will only serve to delay the grief process in the long run.
There's no such thing as a complete end to grief. It'll last as long as it needs to, and then it'll lessen, get better, or go away. For some people, there is no endpoint.
7. You can get over grief
Some well-intentioned people may give you the advice to get over your grief so that you can move on with your life. Along with this advice, you might hear other insensitive things like "it all happened for a reason," or "Your loved one is in a better place."
As you might already know, statements like these don't help you feel better. They only serve as a reminder that your loved one is no longer here. In other cases, hearing people say things like this may cause you to resent them.
There isn't any such thing as getting over your grief. Tragedies and the suffering they bring aren't anything to get over. You can expect to work through your grief but not to get over it.
8. The first year is the hardest
The first year of grief isn't always the hardest. The second year may end up being harder than the first. After your loved one dies, you may not have any idea of what's to come. You can expect grief to hit you at some point following a tragedy. When it does, if it does, you can expect a gut-wrenching pain and heartbreak that may take weeks or months for you to get through.
You may find that your days are consumed with feelings of shock, denial, and numbness. Before you know it, the first anniversary of your loved one's death is upon you. You may not have had enough time to process your grief, let alone begin to understand what life is like without your loved one in it.
9. Your faith is stronger than grief
There is a well-known saying that those who believe need not grieve. Grief is a natural reaction to the pain and suffering that follows the death of a loved one. There are many expected emotions that can come with grief such as sadness, anger, guilt, fear, and shame.
Faith in your religious upbringing and training serves to comfort you in your time of suffering, but it doesn't necessarily take away the physical pain of grief.
Although two different things, grief and religion needn't be thought of as separate concepts. When you grieve, it doesn't mean that you've lost faith in your religion or spiritual teachings and practice.
Feeling sadness and pain after someone you love dies is normal and a natural part of the suffering that follows. Remind yourself that grief can co-exist with the comfort in your spiritual beliefs and all the promises they bring.
10. Children don’t grieve
There's a myth that young children don't grieve or understand what it means to suffer. The truth is that children of any age do grieve significant losses as well as lesser ones. They may not know how to express what they're feeling or how to process their grief-related emotions, but they do feel pain and suffering.
There's a definite misconception that children are too young to understand when someone close to them dies, but children understand grief at any age. The way grief shows up will depend on the child's age, maturity level, and developmental stage.
The Misconceptions Regarding Grief
Grief is universal. Almost everyone who's ever lived will experience grief at some point, and their journey through it will be there's alone. Many well-intentioned people may come along and offer their interpretation of what grief is like, but to know suffering is to experience it. No one's grief will ever be like yours.