The 3 Myths of Grief

The 3 Myths of Grief

In many different fields, myths develop over time which society uses to explain how and why things work. In the field of grief, myths also exist. These myths are deep rooted within our society, even among some professionals.

Myth 1: The 5 Stages of Grief

The theory of the 5 Stages of Grief was developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the world renowned pioneer in the death and dying field. In the late 1960’s, Kübler-Ross’ research concluded that people who were dying would go through the following stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Kübler-Ross’ 5 stage theory was originally intended for people who were diagnosed with a terminal illness. It was then mistakenly used for those who were grieving the loss of a loved one. This stage model was an easy concept for people to accept and society fully embraced this theory. We all like stages; they are broken down and simplified, they help us feel in control with less chaos, and also offer us some predictability over our lives.

However, there has never been evidence that grievers go through these 5 stages of grief. Research into the grief field has concluded that we do not go through any linear stage as we grieve. When we grieve it is messy, extremely stressful, with a yearning for the loved one we lost. We are all different and unique when we are grieving and there are no definitive stages that everyone follows; however, this 5 stage model continues to be taught and used in the grief world. In the grief profession, we now have newer research based grieving models that are much more effective for the griever.

Myth 2: There is “closure” after death

We have all been led to believe that we need “closure” after the death of a loved one, and that it is achievable and necessary for our healing. Many people in society as well as therapists, counselors, and doctors will still state that you need closure when discussing grief with their clients and patients. It would seem that society believes that if we get to a place of “closure”, then we move on and leave that person behind. This very common misconception can be troubling for many who are grieving. What happens is if a griever never feels like they will attain “closure”, they feel like they are failing.

We are a pain averse society with the pressures of putting on a happy face and feeling better soon. It is society itself that is uncomfortable with grief, hence this is why people will ask fairly soon after a death if you have gotten closure. We want the grievers to move on quickly, and move on with life because grief makes society uncomfortable. This is unfortunate because what grievers really need is our patience and compassion.

The truth is, when you love someone or something and they die, that love does not go away. Dr. Katherine Shear, the famous grief specialist, stated that “grief is the form that love takes after someone we love has died”. We continue to love them even though the relationship has changed from being physical in nature, to that of a spiritual or metaphysical one. Even years later, the griever could continue to grieve and long for the deceased. There is no closure. We do not ever get over grief. There is no end point in grief. The love goes on and so does the grief. Instead, grief changes over time and becomes integrated into our lives.

Myth 3: We only grieve death, not non-death losses

Grief is about loss, and that loss comes in many forms with death being just one of them.

When we talk or hear about grief we automatically think of a death. We support and care about these people who are suffering from a death loss. However there are many losses that one experiences in life that are not as well supported within society. Some of these losses include: relationship breakups, infertility, friendship breakups, freedom, empty nest loss, loss of a career, retirement, relocation and loss of your community, illness, broken promises and dreams to name a few. There was one published list that indicated there are 64 non-death losses that people grieve.

Many of these non-death losses are what we consider disenfranchised grief, unrecognized or invalidated grief. This means that we do not socially support them or they are not thought of as “legitimate”. The issue around these non-death losses is subjective in nature, so one person may view the loss as really tough, while another will experience it quite differently. There is no accepted general feeling within society about these losses, which means there is a lack of support for those who are suffering from these non-death losses.

This pandemic has forced all of us to experience some form of grief at various levels. I think we all have developed a new appreciation for what it feels like to grieve even if it is not a death loss.

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