Chapter 5: Is there a right way to grieve?

10 myths about grieving

The grief expert says
Dr. Chris MacKinnon, psychologist, explains that talking is not for everyone.(3:22)
Sandy Kwong, social worker, talks about how crying helps us.(3:22)

1. Grief has a time limit

Grief has no time limit.

You may be looking for a magic date when your grief will end. The reality of grief is more complicated and hard to calculate. You may go through periods of feeling relatively well, and then be blindsided by a birthday or other special occasion.

In most cases, the highs and lows will become fewer and less intense over time. Many people find that that the first 3 to 9 months after a death are the hardest. If you feel completely stuck in your grief, it may be time to talk to a counsellor or your family doctor.

2. Grief has five ordered stages

Grief does not have ordered stages.

"I had made it to the acceptance stage, but then found myself back in the anger stage. I am going backwards!"

You might be familiar with Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Many people believe that when they move back and forth in these stages, they are failing at grief. In fact, there is little scientific support for the stage model. How we live and grieve is not so predictable.

3. Crying is a sign of weakness

Crying is not a sign of weakness.

"I seem to cry at the smallest things."

Our bodies are designed to cry when we experience strong feelings. It is not a sign of weakness but is normal, healthy, and reduces stress. Crying can connect us with others who are struggling with grief. If we hold in our tears, our strong emotions will probably show up in other ways such as disrupted sleep, changes in appetite, or difficulty concentrating.

4. On special days, don’t think about the person

You do not have to avoid thinking about the person who died.

Many people find it helpful to spend at least part of the day honouring the person's memory in some way. You may want to look at photo albums, cook their favourite meal, invite friends and family to gather together or visit the cemetery. Consider choosing an activity enjoyed by the person who died such as spending time in nature, watching a movie or going to the spa.

5. You should “get over” grief

Grief isn’t something you “get over.”

The suggestion to “get over it” or “stop thinking about it” can be well-intended. It often comes from someone who is uncomfortable with your pain, or doesn't know how to help you. They may be trying to make you feel better by encouraging you to “get over it”.

Grief needs to be respected, and we need to respect our own need to grieve. Pressuring ourselves to “get over it” can make us worried and self-critical, which isn’t helpful. We don’t “get over” grief; however, we do heal and learn to live with it.

6. No one can help you

There is help.

If you feel that no one understands, you might try to protect yourself by withdrawing. Grief is often minimized and misunderstood by others, but you do not need to be alone with your loss. All you may need is one person to support you.

If you don't have friends or family to support you, consider joining a grief support group. There are also excellent books, Facebook groups, Twitter feeds, and websites with discussion forums. Reading stories by other people who are grieving can also be helpful. See also Canadian Virtual Hospice Discussion Forums.

7. Death ends a relationship

Death does not end a relationship.

"His example continues to help me be a kinder person."

Many people are surprised that death does not necessarily end the relationship. Your connection can continue, but as an internal and symbolic relationship.For example, the person who has died may still be a positive influence and this can make grieving easier. Many people continue to feel strongly connected to those who have died; this too can ease their grief.

8. You should avoid painful parts of grief

You should not avoid painful parts of grief.

Grief takes courage because it forces us to deal with pain. However, there are lessons to be learned from the pain.   When we confront it, we learn that we can survive.

We learn that we are stronger than we realized.When we avoid the pain of grief, we risk:
• The pain surfacing in other areas of life.
• Being less than we are. For example, becoming bitter, less optimistic about life, and less willing to trust or love again.

9. You will achieve complete closure

You will not always feel complete closure.

There is a lot of debate on when to consider that grief is over. Some argue it ends when you return to living your daily life as before. Others believe that grief never stops but lessens with time and becomes easier to live with. The truth is likely more complicated.

Perhaps it is more realistic to expect that over time you can manage your loss in a way that allows you to enjoy life again. 

10. You have to feel sad and talk about your grief

You don't have to talk about your grief.

Some people do not need to talk about their grief. It can be harmful to push them to talk about their loss. People who are grieving may need space and the respect from others to grieve in their own way.