There are many grief myths that have survived over time. Knowing about them can help all of us deal better with grief, whether we are the person who is grieving or the person who wants to better understand grief so we can support someone who is grieving.
Out of a list of 25 grief myths, we have picked our top six to share with you.
Grief Myth No. 1
Most marriages end in divorce
when a child dies.
This myth grew wings a long time ago and is still alive in the minds of many people today.
Let's dispel this myth once and for all.
Most likely, people have assumed this myth was true because the death of a child is such a catastrophic loss and, like any traumatic loss, puts an enormous strain on relationships. However, even before Compassionate Friends conducted its scientific research that refuted this myth, we could anecdotally see that it simply was not true.
In fact, research showed that most couples--although highly stressed and very often grieving quite differently--do find their way together and go on to have even stronger and deeper relationships than before. Those who did end up getting divorced were usually already experiencing problems in their relationships. In our work at griefHaven, and having met or worked with hundreds of couples and spoken in front of thousands, we find it is quite rare for couples to have divorced after their child has died.
What to do -
When things get tough and you are worried about your relationship, just remember that this is a myth. Of course, seeing a good grief counselor who can help you with the challenges that losing a child can bring is a positive way to provide coping tools and help with communication issues. As with any traumatic life experience, losing your child will change you in profound ways.
To those supporting the couple - Treat them as if they will eventually find their way together and become even closer than before. It's not easy, and it takes a lot of hard work and time for both of them, but that is in fact what generally happens. In this way, you become a loving and understanding part of the difficult journey they are taking.
Click link to see more about this grief myth on
Grief Myth No. 2
There is a right and wrong way to grieve.
Is it okay if I grieve this way?
Shouldn't I be better by now?
When will it end? These are questions people ask who are new to the process of grieving. The answers are that you will grieve in whatever way is natural and normal for you (of course, as long as you aren't hurting yourself or others); the only wrong way to grieve is not to grieve at all; the timing is different for each person; there will come a time when the pain softens and you find your "new normal." Numerous studies show that the way you grieve leads you to know what does and doesn't work, and, interestingly, the actual process of grieving helps you discover how to create a new and joyful life once again.This is one of the reasons it doesn't work to judge yourself or another person's way of grieving and his or her timeline.
The process of grieving is unique to each person and depends upon many factors, such as the person's personality, the relationship to the person who died, circumstances of the person's death, etc. Some people will scream, cry and
Spending time in nature helps
Photo by Micah Callahan
wail, while others might cry quietly. Some people find that expressing what they are feeling and thinking is helpful, and others don't want to talk about it openly. Many find exercise, working in the garden, journaling, writing a book, watching comedies or an engrossing TV series, volunteering, going to work, hobbies, spending time in nature and with family helps. What matters is that each person allows their grief to "be given a voice."
What to do -
Be kind to yourself, give yourself space, and try lots of different things you feel you might be able to handle to know what is okay and what isn't. Also, listen to your gut. If something feels as if it might be too daunting right now, then don't do it. For instance, if you lost your adult child and are invited to a wedding, say yes if you feel safe or want to give it a try. If you feel a dreaded sense that it's too soon, send a gift along with your regrets.
To those supporting someone who is grieving - Don't give up on them if they pass or need to cancel at the last minute. They are still finding their way in their new grief world. Also, if you can, stick with them through the months and even years to come. Last, refrain from giving grief advice. Real life example: A woman lost her husband. Two years later, her closest friend told her that it was time for her to get out, live a little, start dating again. You might think suggesting this would be helpful; most likely, it is not. It was not for this woman. A person will know if and when she wants to delve into the area of dating. She might choose to never date again, and that is okay too. So it's better if you can just be patient and love them as they find their way.
Grief Myth No. 3
There is a linear progression to grief.
Grief is not a straight line, where you get "a little better" every day, such as you would with a cold. Grief is like a roller coaster ride. It often feels as if something or someone else is at the controls, and you are the passenger along for the ride. You
might have two days in a row where you feel a reprieve, and then back it comes. It lasts like that for however long it lasts like that for you. Just when you think you are "doing better" and not crying every day, you might have a few days in a row of crying.
Grief can be like having your back to the ocean. Some waves come along and take you down, while others just gently push you off balance. Regardless, you always get back up again.
Eventually, you will get to a place where you have more control over your grief and where you find new coping skills to deal with your grief. You will create that "new normal" we all talk about, and that will include laughter, joy and embracing life once again.
What to do -
Give yourself permission to be okay one minute on one day, and fall apart the next, knowing that this is perfectly normal. No, it doesn't feel good, and we want those periods of reprieve to last longer. Just know that eventually they will. The tears will come less. The journey will get easier. The joy will return. It takes work on your part to get there. This is why we say that time does not heal all wounds. It's what you do with the time that heals you.
To those supporting someone
who is grieving - Understand that people who are grieving will and do find their way over time, and even though it might be taking longer than you had thought it would take doesn't mean there is something wrong. Letting each person do it their way and giving them the space to do so is one of the greatest gifts you can give..
Grief Myth No. 4
If you know someone is going to die,
you start the grieving
to their death.
This helps you get a "leg up"
on your grief journey.
While on a radio show, griefHaven's founder was asked by the interviewer if, because she knew that her daughter was going to die, grieving ahead of her daughter's actual death was helpful.
She responded, "It doesn't really work that way. When you see a Mac truck coming toward you and you can't get out of the way, you anticipate how it will feel when it actually hits you, but you don't truly know how it feels until it does hit you. The true impact and shock of my daughter's death wasn't real until she was actually gone."
When we know a loved one is going to die, we might begin to imagine how life will be without them here, and we most likely will grieve the fact that they are definitely going to die. That is very different than the grief that follows the loved one's death. In fact, many people tell us that, even though they knew their death was imminent, they never gave up hope that something would occur to keep their loved one alive--that hope didn't leave until their loved one was
no longer there to talk to, hold, and share life with.
What to do - Understand that the grief before and after death can be quite different and that this is very normal. This is often why grievers refer to the "before" she died and the "after" she died. With this information, you are able to "go with the flow" of the major differences as you figure out how to navigate each day.
To those supporting someone who is grieving - Knowing that the grief you are seeing "after" the loved one has died, although most likely quite different than "before," is a normal part of the grieving journey. The love and kindness you gave while their loved one was in hospice or in the hospital is needed even more so after their loved one has died, especially after the services are over and everyone gets back to their own lives--that is when people usually find themselves wondering "Now what? Where is everyone?" Your support from that point forward is so immeasurably helpful, even if it's just a phone call, an email, a text message, or a warm hug to let them know that neither they nor their loved one has been forgotten.
Grief Myth No. 5
There are five stages of grief.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was a pioneer in the area of death and dying and was instrumental in changing the way death was handled. In fact, her work was truly the beginning of what is known as hospice today. Through her work, she observed that those who were dying went through five major stages before they reached the final stage of "acceptance"--acceptance that they were going to die. Even though her book on grieving states that she does not believe grief to be a linear process, all of her "stages" on death and grief have been embraced by many as the "final word."
Understanding grief has changed a lot over the years and continues to do so. The idea that there are stages is no longer embraced. Those who are actually in the process of grieving already know this to be true. The reason it is important to understand this grief myth is because people who are grieving already have enough pressure on them to deal with the mental and emotional aspects of their losses that they don't also need to be worried about whether they have hit all five stages, what stage they are in, what the next stage will be, and when they will be done.
What to do - Just know that nice, neat stages of grief do not exist. The rest has been explained above.
To those supporting someone who is grieving - It's great to know that you understand this grief myth. And if someone you know tells you that they are stuck in stage number 3 or worried about reaching the final stage of acceptance, you can let them know all of this information, or even point them to this newsletter.
Watch more about the "Five Stages Myth" on our
Grief Myth No. 6
Being stoic and/or not grieving
outwardly means you are strong.
Oftentimes people think that because a person is not outwardly grieving they are strong. People sometimes even have "more respect" for those who "keep their grief to themselves" or they might think that a person who openly grieves or "grieves too much" is weak. In fact, Jackie Onassis Kennedy was touted as the perfect grief role model after John Kennedy's death. Around the world people admired her and talked about how "strong" she was. Something about not showing any public emotion and standing tall and stoic made people feel better, didn't it? The truth as we now know it is that Jackie had a role to play in society and chose to grieve behind closed doors, but her gut-wrenching sorrow was no different than anyone else's would have been. We don't ever want to encourage someone to "suck it up" when facing the sorrow of losing a loved one.
Click on this past newsletter below to read more about this subject.
Whether someone chooses to show their grief publicly or privately is a personal decision, but there is nothing wrong with falling apart or crying around those who care. Sometimes the grief is so intense that a person simply cannot control how or when it comes out, especially in the beginning: the grocery store, a shopping center, during a family meal, the holidays, or a moment's notice when something has triggered a memory. True strength comes from a place of willingness to experience the grief, letting it guide us to the new places we will go, knowing that it always dissipates at some point. Grief shows us what we need to do to deal with it.
What to do -
As the person who is grieving, understand that it takes great courage to honor your grief, however it manifests for you. Actively grieving is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of deep love and longing for that one who has died. What a beautiful statement that is.
To those supporting someone who is grieving - If you can be a person who can handle being with someone when they break down, then you have given them a great gift. If you can't handle it, that's okay, too. Either way, it's best not to ever encourage a "fake" approach to grief when you are with someone who is grieving, for you do them a great disservice.
To learn more about grief myths,
visit our website series: