At Dougy Center, we are often asked about the right way for children, teens, and adults to grieve. Many people worry that the thoughts, feelings, and actions they've experienced or seen in others, aren’t aligned with what they’ve heard or read about. In listening to these concerns, we’ve identified three common myths about grief.
MYTH #1: WE GRIEVE IN STAGES
You might be familiar with the five stages of grief developed by Elisabeth Kübler Ross in 1969. These stages came out of research Dr. Kübler-Ross did with hospital patients who were dying. Somewhere along the way, these stages were adopted by the bereavement world as a model for those who were grieving after a death. While the emotions connected to each stage, including shock, anger, protest, depression, and acceptance, are common reactions, they don’t unfold linearly. People may feel one, all, or none of these emotions — and that is completely normal. Participants in our support groups describe a variety of images and metaphors to describe how they experience grief. Many say their grief is similar to ocean waves, with strong feelings coming and going. Others talk about grief having a rush hour when their emotions pile up and feel stuck. It's clear that grief doesn’t unfold in a straight line, but rather ebbs and flows in ways that are unique to each person.
MYTH #2: THERE’S A RIGHT (AND WRONG) WAY TO FEEL
Similar to the first myth, people who are grieving may face tremendous pressure from themselves and others to feel a particular way. Children, teens, and adults often say, “I think I’m doing this wrong. Is it okay that I…” They worry the unique and individual ways they’ve found to adapt and cope are wrong. The fact is that everyone grieves differently — even people in the same family. When it comes to grief, laughing, crying, exercising, playing the guitar, building a deck, etc., are all examples of ways people may express their grief and find comfort.
MYTH #3: GRIEF FOLLOWS A TIMELINE (AKA: SHOULDN’T YOU BE OVER IT BY NOW?)
For many people who are new to grief, the most pressing question is, “When am I going to be over this?” People are anxious to know when they will feel better and they are likely sensing a push from friends and family to get back to being who they were before the death. This pressure can lead people to feel like they're doing something wrong if they still cry or long for the person one, five, or even 20 years after the death. Grief isn’t something we get over, especially within a designated time period. It’s something that continues to evolve as we integrate both the loss itself and what it means for us throughout our lives.
Because grief is unique for everyone, one of the most helpful things we can do for ourselves and others is be open and curious, rather than insistent or predictive. Instead of telling people how they should feel, we can ask, “What is this like for you?”
Find more about these grief myths here, and learn about the movement to #UnderstandGrief here.