Myths about Mourning
Western culture is quite uncomfortable with grief, sadness, pain, death and loss. Most of us have grown up with a number of misconceptions about grief.
When we experience the death of someone who was significant in our lives we may encounter some of these “myths.”
Sometimes they come to us from well-meaning others. Sometimes they are beliefs we hold inside ourselves that we “learned” when children. This is a time to re-examine some of these. It can impact our process of grieving.
“Grief will pass in time. Time heals all wounds”
Grief will stay within a person until it is worked through. Time can lesson the intensity of emotions and the rawness of the death experience, but it takes work to process and digest these experiences. It takes action to find effective ways to cope with the pain. It takes effort to learn new roles, take on new responsibilities, and form a new vision of the future.
“If I let myself cry I’m afraid I’ll never stop. I am afraid I’ll sink in to depressionand never get out.”
Tears release toxins in our systems and the act of crying releases tension and energy so allowing yourself to have a good cry can actually be very helpful and beneficial. Some people have dealt with this fear by setting a timer and allowing themselves 15 minutes or a half hour to cry. Then, when the timer rings, they will get up and take a walk or engage in a different activity.
“Don’t pity yourself. Don’t dwell on your grief. There are so many others who have it worse than you.”
The act of mourning, publicly displaying grief, is a normal and natural reaction to the loss of someone who was important in your life. Although it is true that there are many in this world who are facing tragedies and tremendous hardships, this does not disqualify your pain and grief. Bereaved individuals need time to process what has happened, and compassion so that they can express their pain and receive help from others when needed. Bottling emotions like sadness will only lead to these feelings building and potentially causing you harm later on.
Find ways to connect and let out your emotions – journaling, walking, punching a pillow, listening to a sad song and crying, talking with others who are bereaved – are all ways that people have found to release emotions. Find what works for you and do not hold yourself to others timelines.
“Keep busy, it won’t hurt as much.”
This has kernels of truth in it. It can help to be engaged in activities. The problem comes when one keeps busy all the time to avoid dealing with feelings. This is a sure fire way to become exhausted, and the grief will be waiting for you when you stop running. We’ve found the most helpful response is to maintain a balance between paying attention to your feelings of grief and finding ways to express them, as well as taking breaks from the intensity of feelings.
“It is good to be strong.”
You do what you have to in the moment and after a while “being strong” can feel exhausting. It is okay to ask for help, to not “go it alone”, to give yourself permission to cry and to stumble as you walk along this journey. It takes a lot more courage to allow yourself your tears and to be true to your own needs and do what feels right for you. It takes strength to admit when you are struggling and to reach out for help when needed.
“Tears are best kept private.”
Most of us have been taught to cry privately. Public “display” was seen as shameful and so most people are embarrassed to cry in public. The reality of mourning though is that we can be “ambushed” anytime anywhere by waves of grief. Know that this is normal and it is nothing to be embarrassed about. If tears overwhelm you, just take some deep breaths and do not worry about what others might think.
“Don’t drag others down with your problems. People won’t want to be with you.”
Being able to express your experience out loud can be a powerful way to heal grief. It also can allow you to feel the support, love and caring of others at a time when a significant person in your life is no longer physically with you.
One of the challenges is discerning whom among friends and family can truly listen to what you are feeling. It is common for family members to all mourn differently and to protect each other from knowing their true feelings, not wanting to further “upset” each other.
It can be true that some people, whom you are close with, may feel very uncomfortable being around intense feelings of pain or sadness. They may distance themselves from you. Often this is not because of you. It is because they don’t know what to do or say. Sometimes they are fearful of causing you more hurt, in addition to that which you are already feeling.
Check with people first before you speak with them about your feelings of grief. Let them know that you understand that some people are uncomfortable with feelings of sadness. Let them also know what you need. For example, “I would just like you to listen to me and then give me a big hug. I don’t need advice or solutions but I really need to be heard and to know that you care about me. I just need to express my feelings.”
This may help others feel more comfortable listening. And there are times when our friends and family members have listened and been there for us and need to turn and attend to the issues in their own lives.
This is when we need to seek additional supports. That’s when coming to group, meeting with bereavement volunteer or the counselor can make a big difference.