Grief is something we will all inevitably experience at some point in our lives, however just because it is something we have in common, doesn’t mean we all go through it in the same way. There are many things said about grief that are simply not true, or at least not true for everyone. Grief is often misunderstood and this can end up causing confusion and upset for those who are bereaved that feel like they are not experiencing grief in the “correct way”. Here, we will discuss some common misconceptions about grief.
Misconception 1: People grief in stages
Whilst having grief shown as a process can be a source of comfort for some, for others, it can be disconcerting. What if what they are feeling doesn’t seem to follow this pattern and these pre-determined stages? Does this mean there is something wrong with them? The truth is that whilst many people go through some if not all the stages of grief often written about, not everyone does. The stages were first published in a 1968 book called “On Death and Dying” by Dr Kubler Ross and the stages were actually created for people facing death, such as those having a terminal illness and the stages that occurred as they coped with knowing they were dying.
Over time, these stages have been falsely attributed to sole grief and this isn’t the case. Whilst people can experience the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, this doesn’t mean everyone will. People may only experience some of these stages, they may not be in order and they may not experience any of the stages. Grief cannot be neatly sorted into stages as it is completely unique for everyone and that’s ok.
Misconception 2: You’re not grieving properly if you don’t cry
It’s often said that people are holding in their feelings and not facing their grief if they are not crying, but this simply isn’t true. People can experience a range of emotions whilst grieving and anything from anger, frustration or even relief are all valid emotions to go through after losing someone. Crying is common but it is not an essential part of grief.
In some cultures, crying can be something that is considered embarrassing and is therefore avoided. Some people may also go through a phase where they feel numb. This is very common and during this phase, people may struggle to cry or feel any strong emotions. This does not mean they are not grieving.
Misconception 3: Mourning and grieving are the same thing
Whilst they are related, they are not the exact same thing. Whilst grief is the emotional state related to losing something or someone, mourning is the actions that are a direct result of grief. Other actions alongside mourning can include pain and anger. Mourning is one form of expressing grief and is something that is visible for others to see. Grief, on the other hand, is not necessarily visible to others and can take many different forms.
Misconception 4: Grief will get better over time
The truth of the matter is that grief is hard, no matter how much time has passed. Whilst people’s grief may be heightened initially after their loved ones’ passing, the grief may not ever go away. Whilst people may start to come to terms with the fact their loved one has gone, the feeling of loss and grief will probably never truly go away, you just learn to cope with the grief and how to incorporate this into your daily life.
It is important to know this as it came come as a shock to people if they start to feel ok but suddenly are hit by a wave of grief. This often happens when they experience something that reminds them specifically of their loved one (e.g a favourite song of theirs comes on the radio, or you smell their perfume), or if it’s an important anniversary.
Misconception 5: Getting counselling for grief is a bad thing
Some may feel reluctant to go and see a grief counsellor for help. This may be because other family members or friends haven’t had to go to one or you may feel like it shows weakness. However, this isn’t true. Trying to get over the death of a loved one is not an easy thing to do, and you may need professional help to do this. Grieving can lead to severe health problems, both mentally and physically if grief becomes chronic and grief counselling can be the perfect option to help people who are struggling to cope with grief on their own or don’t feel comfortable talking to friends or family. Therapists are specifically trained in this area, will be there to listen and will be able to provide suggestions for coping strategies and tailor their advice specifically to your needs.
Misconception 6: Grief is bad
When people think of grief, there are usually negative connotations around it as it obviously means someone important to you is no longer here. Whilst losing someone can be the worst time of your life, grief itself is not to blame. Whilst grief can be painful and a horrible thing to experience, it can also help you ask yourself important questions about your loved one. For example, “how can I honour them”? Without grief enabling us to reflect on our loved ones’ lives and ask ourselves questions like this, we would perhaps not be able to embrace opportunities to honour them, cherish their memory and ultimately come to a place of acceptance.
As this article highlights, grief is an extremely complex process and will not be the same experience for everyone. By understanding these common misconceptions, hopefully, people who are grieving can find comfort knowing that these “facts on grief” are in fact misunderstood and not entirely true and that however they are feeling is valid.