By Therese Rando, Ph.D.
Our difficulties with grief have contributed to many myths and misunderstandings about it. These are dangerous, because you use your knowledge about grief to:
1. Establish your expectations for it.
2. Serve as standards against which you measure how well you are doing with your grief.
3. Determine the type of help and support you should get from others.
If the information you have about grief is faulty or inaccurate, then you risk developing unrealistic expectations about yourself in grief. Since these expectations then become the standards against which you evaluate yourself it is important that they are appropriate and realistic—if they are not, you will tend to feel guilt and failure if you do not meet them. Additionally, you will not receive the necessary help and support from others, who may judge you to be inappropriate in your grief or perceive you as "crazy" when in fact you are perfectly normal, or fail to understand what you are undergoing and how best to help you cope with it. You set yourself up for additional pain. For these reasons, you need an accurate understanding of the complex experience of grief and the needs of a griever.
I have found that the myths and unrealistic expectations that society maintains for grievers are some of the worst problems any griever has. Many people fail to allow themselves to do what they have to in their grief because they think that there is something wrong with them. Many feel that they should be "over" their grief long before they ever could be. Many hold expectations for themselves that are outrageously unrealistic and that only cause them to berate themselves unfairly when their expectations cannot be met.
Look at the statements below and decide how many of them you believe:
All losses are the same.
It takes two months to get over your grief.
All bereaved people grieve in the same way.
Grief always declines over time in a steadily decreasing fashion.
When grief is resolved, it never comes up again.
Family members will always help grievers.
Children grieve like adults.
Feeling sorry for yourself is not allowable.
It is better to put painful things out of your mind.
You should not think about your deceased loved one at the holidays because it will make you too sad.
Bereaved individuals only need to express their feelings and they will resolve their grief.
Expressing feelings that are intense is the same as losing control.
There is no reason to be angry at people who tried to do their best for your deceased loved one.
There is no reason to be angry at your deceased loved one.
Only sick individuals have physical problems in grief.
Because you feel crazy, you are going crazy.
You should feel only sadness that your loved one has died.
Infant death shouldn’t be too difficult to resolve because you didn’t know the child that well.
Children need to be protected from grief and death.
Rituals and funerals are unimportant in helping us deal with life and death in contemporary America.
Being upset and grieving means that you do not believe in God or trust your religion.
You and your family will be the same after the death before your loved one died.
You will have no relationship with your loved one after the death.
The intensity and length of your grief are testimony to your love for the deceased.
There is something wrong if you do not always feel close to your other family members, since you should be happy that they are still alive.
There is something wrong with you if you think that part of you has died with your loved one.
If someone has lost a spouse, he or she knows what it is like to lose a child.
When in doubt about what to say to a bereaved person, offer a cliché.
It is better to tell bereaved people to “Be brave” and “Keep a stiff upper lip” because then they will not have to experience as much pain.
When you grieve the death of a loved one, you only grieve for the loss of that person and nothing else.
Grief will affect you psychologically, but in no other way.
If you are a widow, you should grieve like other widows.
Losing someone to sudden death is the same as losing someone to an anticipated death.
You will not be affected much if your parent dies when you are an adult.
Parents usually divorce after a child dies.
It is not important for you to have social support in your grief.
Once your loved one has died it is better nor to focus on him or her, but to put him or her in the past and go on with your life.
You can find ways to avoid the pain of your grief and still resolve it successfully.
How many of these statements do you believe? Each one of them is a myth. None of them is true. Yet, if you believe that they are true you will expect yourself to act and feel accordingly. If you think that you are wrong, for example, because you act angry at your loss or because you are sad during the holidays, you just will be putting an additional burden on yourself. These feelings are normal. There is nothing wrong with you.
Excerpted with permission from Therese A. Rando, How To Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies. New York: Bantam Books, 1991, pp. 6-9.
Dr. Therese Rando, author of How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies, is a psychologist in Warwick, R.I., where she is the Clinical Director of The Institute for the Study and Treatment of Loss. Having published 70 works pertaining to the clinical aspects of dying, death, loss, and trauma, Dr. Rando is a recognized expert in the field and has appeared on numerous television programs, including "Dateline," CBS "This Morning," "Today Show," "Good Morning, America," and "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
Image via Flickr Creative Commons / The Wandering Angel