How to Grieve: 5 Myths That Hurt

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Grief is a natural response to loss, and it can unfold in many ways. Unfortunately, well-intentioned onlookers -- dubbed "grief police" by grief expert Robert Neimeyer, professor of psychology at the University of Memphis -- often say things that mistakenly imply to the bereaved that there's a "right" way to grieve.

Consider these all-too-common grief myths:

Myth #1: It's possible to cry too much.

Everyone grieves differently. There's no single correct way to express the pain, sorrow, yearning, and other aspects of the transition of adjusting to the death of a loved one. Intense responses are sometimes seen as "losing control," when in fact they're simply how that person is actively (and productively) processing the loss.

Myth #2: If you don't cry now, it'll be worse later.

Some people never cry. Tears or outward expressions of anguish simply aren't everyone's grieving style, says psychologist Neimeyer. This doesn't mean they're grieving less intensely than a visibly shaken individual, or that they loved the person who died any less. Nor does a lack of obvious emotion mean the griever has an emotional block or problem or will face a longer, more difficult adjustment to the loss.

Myth #3: Grief is something you "get over."

Most people never stop grieving a death; they learn to live with it. Grief is a response, not a straight line with an endpoint. Many psychologists bristle at words such as "acceptance" or "resolution" or "healed" as a final stage of grief. The real stages of grief involve tasks of processing and adjustment that one returns to all through life.

Myth #4: Time heals slowly but steadily.

Time is the commodity through which a grieving person sorts through the effects and meaning of a loss. But that process isn't a steady fade-out, like a photograph left in the sun. Grief is a chaotic roller coaster -- a mix of ups, downs, steady straight lines, and the occasional slam. Periods of intense sadness and pain can flare and fade for years or decades.

Myth #5: Grieving should end after a set amount of time.

Ignore oft-quoted rules of thumb that purport to predict how long certain types of grief should last. A downside to six-week or eight-week bereavement groups, says Sherry E. Showalter, a psychotherapist specializing in grief and the author of Healing Heartaches: Stories of Loss and Life, is that at the end of the sessions, people mistakenly expect to be "better" (or their friends expect this). "Everyone tells me the same story: 'I failed Grief 101,' because they still feel pain," Showalter says. "We grieve for a lifetime, because we're forever working to incorporate the death into our own tapestry of life."

Learning how to grieve is ultimately part instinct, part stumbling along, part slogging along -- a bit like learning how to live.


about 1 year ago, said...

My Mom passed 2 weeks ago today. I haven't and can't cry. I feel this is wrong, but I can't make myself feel an emotion that isn't there. She had a massive stroke in Nov of 2009 which left her unable to speak. She had been in the local care center for 6 years and every time I would go visit her I would be crying before I flew out of the door. I am comforted in that she is no longer in pain and suffering. She was 82 years old and I had these grand thoughts of her living to 100 (don't know why). But, that would have meant her being in that place for another 18 years which I don't know that I could handle. She stopped eating on Wednesday and took her last breath at 8:52am on Sunday morning, my Dad's birthday. I don't feel bad about not being able to cry, I just wonder after all of the family I have lost and cried myself to death over why don't I feel the need to cry when I lose the most important person in my life?


about 1 year ago, said...

Grief will never go away!! My pain is still so real has the day my grandson left here!!


about 1 year ago, said...

I liked this article, as a nurse myself when you are waiting for the end of a love one to not struggle le again. the words sometimes doesn't come to us when we are too close. Thank you for these words as most words right now are selected carefully for me and my sister.


about 1 year ago, said...

My beautiful granddaughter died a month ago this Thursday She was 2 and just a week old The biggest joy and love of our lives The pain is unbearable, how can this be? My amazing daughter is empty, lost We all are. The thought of never seeing her again is unthinkable, but I know it's true! Our little darling has an amazing big sister, 7 years older. She waited so long to become a proud big sister I recognise that we will miss a our granddaughter, my daughter will miss her niece and my granddaughters mother and father will miss their little girl But for my eldest granddaughter she hasn't got another sibling, she has lost her home due to the circumstances of my granddaughters passing, she has lost the potential of a best friend, lifetime of memories As a mother and grandmother my heart is completely torn apart that this time I am unable to 'fix' it! It's funny but no words help, arms around us. I never want to see another bunch of flowers again People mean well Advised to be strong! hope your brighter today! I actually got plants sent to me to'Cheer me up' my daughter actually got sent £25! And to top it, 'wasn't the casket beautiful' I know my friends are wonderful and have every kind loving intention. Been told time is a healer!! We will never get 'over' our little funny, beautiful, cheeky. Clever girl The plans we made in life included her Although we have so much to deal with so does a 9 year old now I am so aware she needs to be valued and her life needs to matter and not live her life being in the background to who we have lost


about 1 year ago, said...

I understand all too well caring for a loved one is. The house is quiet. There are no more people to take care of. I've let a lot things that once were enjoyable or important to me fade away from my life. I did what I needed and wanted to do by caring for my mother (who has died from Alzheimer's Disease) and a very close friend (who now is in remission). Mother died. My friend moved away to live with someone else who will take care of him when his cancer returns. I'm glad he's been in remission for as long as he has now. I'm happy he has another friend who will care for him. I feel lost! Today is Day 5 with my empty house. Bunny and I are here now. (Bunny is my dog who is also cancer free for the time being.) I have been adding things to a "to do" I started a while back. This list is what I need now help focus on what to do next., after there is no one left to care for except myself. I am proud of myself for taking the 1st step to reach out to others. I do have friends who have "been there" for me when I was ready to stop caring for everyone. I am not very good at taking care of myself and don't particularly WANT the responsibility of taking care of myself. It's so much easier to take care of others and put myself last. :( I NOW have time to visit my father (who has paid caregivers ) but I have a difficult time staying very long before I feel worn out and burned out again. Life WILL go on!. I just have no clue where I am going right now. I'm sure I'll find out as I go. Thanks for your posts. I know I am not alone.


about 1 year ago, said...

I lost my grandmother on the 9th of March 20015 we found out she had kidney cancer and we wear told she had 2 weeks 2 live she lasted 9 I still not copping well with it she was like a second mum 2 me and finding her death difficult xx


over 1 year ago, said...

Life is a journey without destination. People entrain and detrain during the journey.and get into relationships but unable to continue their relationship when they arrive to their destination. But those who continue will normally find new relationships coming in their way and start enjoying their journey. Some people stay quiet till they reach their destination keep worrying about those who got down enroute. This is only my individual perception about life. We have to carry on with life whether we like it or not till the end comes but in the mean time we can help others in whatever way possible


over 1 year ago, said...

Mike 010, So sorry for your tremendous loss. Grief is a personal and lonely journey. I understand your feelings. My story sounds exactly like yours. I feel the same way as you do. (& yes that is my comment below before I created a profile :-)


over 1 year ago, said...

To Mike 010, My story sounds exactly like yours. My husband passed away over 2 years ago. I feel the same way as you feel.


over 1 year ago, said...

Bonjoi & VUM Rao - Thanks for sharing! @VUM Rao & Milka: Please consider continuing the conversation in the online support groups: https://www.caring.com/support-groups Thanks!


over 1 year ago, said...

I take great pride in reading Milka's comments. Her sense of understanding and state of mind about life is amazing and it is worth reading and inculcating in our lives to reamin steady and balanced under difficult situations. We can remain blissful if we help others known or unknown without expecting any favors. We in INDIA follow these principles very strongly.


over 1 year ago, said...

Thank you for your useful information. I seldom have time to write & sometime would rather talk to a real person on the phone, however my partner & I are in so many places we are blessed to have a number of choices.


over 1 year ago, said...

Thanks for sharing Mike 010, We hope you find the article and support groups helpful to you.


over 1 year ago, said...

I lost my loving wife of 37 years to cancer over 5 years ago. From my own perspective, I can tell you that you never completely get over it. I still feel as though I have been gutted. However, I have come to the realization that nothing in this life is permanent, but merely loaned to us by God. I have never remarried and I can't, and don't want to start another relationship with another woman. It woud be unfair to her since that ghost is always present. I have two cats that my wife loved dearly. These two animals do help fill the void. Anyone who thinks they are going to sail through life without pain and grief is in for a rude awakening.


over 1 year ago, said...

Hi everyone, Thanks for reading this article about grief and sharing comments specific to the article. If you'd like to have a group discussion about grieving and your individual caregiving and end-of-life experiences, please visit our online support groups: https://www.caring.com/support-groups (copy and paste that URL in your browser, or click on the Support Groups tab at the top of this page). Whether you add a comment about the article here, or join a conversation in the support groups, please keep our Community Code of Conduct and website terms of use in mind: https://www.caring.com/about/community_guidelines and https://www.caring.com/about/terms Caring.com is a diverse community serving family caregivers from a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs. We invite Christian caregivers to this discipleship group where Chrisitan faith is a focus of the conversation: https://www.caring.com/support-groups/discipleship Please contact community@caring.com if you have any questions. Thank you!


over 1 year ago, said...

She sounds lovely, and she was much too young to leave. You did not let her down, you were there for her and you still are there to treasure her memory. You have a purpose here, and it is to live and be strong to accept what life gives you. I know a part of you did die with her, so you did tell her the truth there, that is obvious and it will not come back, but please be gentle with yourself, and give yourself the time to grieve and trust in the fact that it will always hurt, but not as much, just differently. I know she must have loved you very much and would not want you to be sad forever. I know she would want you to watch over your children and grandchildren and be there for them in her place. She sounds like she was a wonderful lady, and I know how hard it is, truly I do. But time will make it a little easier and you have so many wonderful memories, that, as I said, I wish I had, of someone I loved who left much too soon. She is there with you, you just cannot see her, but each time you see the stars in the sky, rest assured that she is never far away. Love does not die, it remains long after we are gone, in those we love and in the things we did. I wish I could be there to talk with you and to give you a gentle hug to help with some of the pain.


over 1 year ago, said...

My Julie was 56 when she was killed and she was one of those people that others turn to for help or advice. In 2009 she started a job that she loved working on the platform at Lewisham train station. Typical of her that it was a job where she could help people and pretty soon she became the mum of the station..she was loved by others and adored by me . I remember about 6 of 7 weeks before she died she was in hospital and she looked at me and said I'm never getting out of here . This was before we knew what was the problem of course I said to her don't be silly . I always told her that if she went i would be 5 minutes behind her. Just another way I let her down. Sorry can't do this anymore