Did you take Grief 101 in college? Most schools and colleges do not teach their students what to do when grieving so that they can recover from their grief completely and effortlessly. Most of us learn how to deal with grief by watching and listening to other people around us. The problem is that most people in our society don’t know how to navigate grief effectively either. Most people believe that doing one or more of the nine practices this article discusses will help us recover from our grief fully and quickly. Unfortunately, in most cases, these nine practices cause more pain and delay our recovery from grief.
Grief myth #1: It’s not grief if it’s not death, divorce,
or other significant loss.
This misunderstanding is very saddening as we are telling people grieving from other causes that they don’t deserve to grieve, making them suffer in silence. While in truth, grief is the unsettling feelings caused by hope unmet or a change in our
familiar pattern. The Grief Recovery Institute identifies more than 40 causes of grief, including retirement, moving, getting marriage, financial change (gain or loss), significant health changes, loss of safety (such as community shooting, fire evacuation),
and many others. We need to recognize when we or someone we care about are grieving, so we can address it and recover from it completely.
Why do we need to recover from our grief completely? It is because grief is like hot lava burning inside of us. Left unresolved, grief robs our ability to have peace of mind, joy, and feel fulfilled. Grief will seep into many aspects of our life and even
cause us to react (i.e., “explode”) inappropriately. We want to recognize when we are grieving and address it correctly.
Grief myth # 2: Staying busy.
Do you keep running if you broke one of your legs, hoping it would reunite on its own and fix itself? You would most likely go to a doctor for surgery and then physical therapy. When we are grieving, our hearts have been broken. Have you ever come home
after a gathering with well-meaning friends only to feel your sadness even more? Or perhaps you ran around all day, and when it was time to go to sleep, you couldn’t sleep because you were emotionally exhausted and in even more pain? Staying
busy might temporarily numb us from our emotional pain, but it will not help us heal and can indeed delay our recovery from our grief, just like if we kept running on a broken leg.
Grief myth # 3: Don’t feel bad.
As a veterinary oncologist, I have many clients who started crying during the initial consultation and almost as many who apologize for crying. Many said, “I’m so sorry; I tried not to get emotional and cry, so sorry I am such a wimp and cry
with you here.” It is very saddening for me to hear this. Their beloved pet just got a malignant cancer diagnosis, and they feel they should not be sad, scared, upset, and cry?
It is unfortunate that we often think that we should not feel bad, that we do not deserve to grieve because that is the message we received from our society when we were growing up. Messages such as “No need to cry, he’s getting the best treatment”
or “Well, at least he’s no longer suffering from the illness” or “Don’t feel bad, you should be grateful you still have…” or “Don’t feel bad, we’ll get you another dog.” All these
messages invalidate our feelings and imply that we should not grieve. And this leads us to the 4th common but often harmful practice when we are grieving.
Grief myth # 4: Grieve alone.
Have you ever heard the saying: “Laugh and the whole world laughs with you; cry, and you cry alone.” Or perhaps you have noticed that when someone is sad and crying, others tend to leave her alone or tell others to “give her some space.”
Sadly, many of us think we have to be alone when we can benefit most from loving support, thus feeling even lonelier and even more isolated.
Grief myth # 5: Not sad, not grief.
The truth is, even when the cause of grief is a loss of a loved one, many people feel other emotions besides sadness. Many feel anger, overwhelmed, atypical or progressive tiredness, unfulfilled, and unmotivated. Some experience physical symptoms that
are often minimally or not responsive to treatment. Grief is like a chameleon; it can disguise itself in many forms.
Grief myth # 6: Replace the loss.
My well-meaning friend hugged me and said, “Don’t worry that your husband is leaving; you’ll find a guy soon; there’s plenty of fish in the sea.” I didn’t know I was married to a fish! She continued, “Just let
him go. It’s not worth fighting for. You know I had been married three times; it gets easier to just replace them than wasting your time and energy trying to work things out.”
Swiftly replacing someone while our wound is still bleeding can cause multiple problems. First, we are not allowing ourselves time to heal; the replacement helps keep us distracted from our pain but does not help us clear the hot lava of grief inside
of us. Secondly, we often end up cheating ourselves and the replacement person/pet the full opportunity for a wonderful relationship because we start our new relationship on broken ground. Lastly, some of us feel guilty for not being able to be fully
present and joyful with our replacement; this corrodes, even more, our peace of mind and joy.
Grief myth # 7: Be strong for others.
In my oncology practice, I often hear a spouse or a friend saying to my clients: “Don’t let the child / the dog / the…see you cry; you’ll upset them too. The first problem with trying to be strong for others when our heart is
bleeding is that it does not allow us to grieve the way we need to. We end up trying to push away the hot lava in us, thus delaying our ability to recover from it and potentially creating more damage. The other problem with trying to be strong for
others is it can cause subconscious resentment toward the person we tried to be strong for.
Grief myth # 8: Time will heal your grief.
If we completely break our legs, we don’t just sit on the sofa and expect our legs to heal on their own. Yet, that is what society tells us to do when our hearts are broken. No surprise, we are still grieving many months or even years later. Just
like with broken legs, we need to seek and receive the appropriate help for our broken hearts for them to recover completely. Just as a skillful surgeon can heal a broken leg more correctly and promptly, grief specialists use an evidence-based systematic
approach to help you heal your heart promptly and correctly. You can have peace of mind and thrive again. Time does not heal grief. If time heals grief, there will never be PTSD.
Grief myth # 9: Moving forward means forgetting/stopping to love.
The truth is allowing yourself and your heart to heal is an expression of honor and love for the ones you love. When you allow support to help you heal your broken heart, you will be able to remember your loved one in a cherished, beautiful way, without
the pain. You will naturally be more inclined to celebrate the person when you can do so more easily and joyfully. Celebrating and cherishing our loved ones are expressions of our honor and love for them.
The other truth is the ones who love you want you to be happy and live your life to the fullest, the way you would have to want your loved ones to thrive. When you allow me to support you and complete your relationship, your heart will heal, and you will
be at peace of mind again. You will have the evergreen tools and skills to confidently and easily navigate your feelings through life's ups and downs. You will feel at peace with your recent loss and even more confident and at ease as you move forward
in your life and THRIVE as your loved one would have wanted you to be.
As you may see by now, these myths on how to deal with grief when it strikes us can create more damage than good. I hope the awareness you gain from reading this article helps you and your loved one move through and beyond your grief more easily.
Birgitte Tan, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology)
Certified Grief Specialist, Certified Life Mastery Consultant