While most people recognise that loss is a normal part of life, the grief that follows is often misunderstood.
To help clear up this confusion, we’ve compiled a list of the common misconceptions held about grief.
Grief is not a sign of weakness, or an inability to cope. On the contrary, grief is a normal and adaptive response to loss that everyone will experience at some stage of their life. Grief represents the pain and anguish we feel when someone or something we care about has been taken away.
Grief is a universal experience, occurring across all cultures throughout the world (even among certain animals). In Western society, daring to experience grief fully and completely can take courage. Yet when we choose to open ourselves to grief, it can be one of life’s greatest teachers.
Grief is not only limited to the death of a loved one, though this is a very significant form of loss for most people. In fact, there are many other types of loss that can lead to grief. For example:
While just as valid, these less obvious forms of loss can sometimes result in grief going unnoticed or unacknowledged. People do not always realise the sadness or despair they are feeling may actually be grief. Yet coming to this realisation is an important first step in moving forward and seeking the specific support we may need.
The common understanding that grief follows a chronological progression of stages was originally developed by Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book "On Death and Dying". Dr Kubler-Ross described five specific stages that people with terminal illness were thought to experience (e.g., denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). These five stages were later applied to the broader grief community as a way to describe the grief-cycle more generally.
Although the theory still describes many of the emotions grieving people feel, recent research has found the ‘stages’ model does not always fit with people’s unique experience. These days, grief is considered a very individual process, and may not necessarily move fluidly in a predictable fashion for each and every person.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. No two people will ever experience grief in exactly the same way or for the same amount of time. An individual’s own grief experience can depend on a range of factors, including who or what was lost, as well as their social support network, upbringing, personality, spiritual beliefs and cultural heritage.
Everyone grieves in their own way and at their own pace. So it’s okay to feel how you feel – whether that be sad, angry or numb. It’s okay to cry or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh and to find moments of joy in the present. That’s why it’s so important to honour the grief process, without judgement, however it transpires for you.
For many people, the heaviness of grief does not shift or dissipate with the passage of time. Some people struggle for many years, even decades to make sense of their loss.
Time in and of itself is not what heals a grieving heart. Rather, it is what we do with our grief that can, over time, influence our grief journey.
The gift of time can provide space to reflect, process, integrate and adapt to the loss we have experienced. So while the pain of grief never really ends, it can evolve and take on a different shape. As this transition gradually occurs, we can find a renewed sense of meaning or personal identity in life, and reorient ourselves towards the future.