Grief is often misunderstood. Basically, it’s an intense reaction to some significant loss in our lives. There are no rules, no parameters, and no time tables with grief. However we feel and respond is natural and normal for us. It’s important to understand, however, that grief should ease with time and life should begin to assume a feeling of normalcy, even if it’s a ‘new normal’.
If you’ve even had someone tell you, “Get over it”, they may not understand the experience of grief…. or they may simply grieve differently from you. There are no right or wrong ways to grieve. Here are some factors that are often misunderstood about grief.
#1 – People only grieve because of the death of someone close to them.
So not true. Grief can accompany loss of any kind – divorce, job loss, a broken relationship or friendship, or the loss of a pet. A serious accident or illness, or the loss of physical ability can trigger grief. However, the stronger the relationship, the more intensely we feel that sense of loss and grief. Moving, changing jobs, or other life trauma can tip our emotional equilibrium out of kilter, leading to depression, despondency and grief. I’ve known women to grieve when a child ‘left the nest’. Men sometimes grieve when forced to retire.
#2 – Only family members experience grief when someone dies.
Also not true. Friends, colleagues, church family, neighbors – and perhaps a few more that we can’t be aware of as we plan the inevitable funeral arrangements – feel the loss, often intensely. The ritual and comfort found in gathering together to remember and honor that person cannot be overstated. We held a service for Ed’s dad in the living room of his home. Family members were amazed as neighbors shared stories about a couple we didn’t recognize – as we learned about our parents from the eyes of their friends. A time of sharing after the service deepened our understanding of the people our parents had been.
#3 – Grief is just an emotional reaction to loss.
We all know that’s not true. Grief is defined as deep sorrow or mental anguish. But that definition doesn’t acknowledge that grief affects every area of our lives, not just our emotions. It can affect our mental ability, relationships, appetite, physical energy and our spirit being. Ed lost 30 pounds after his parents’ deaths; nothing tasted good. He lost interest in day-to-day happenings and had little energy or focus. He’s OK now, but the process took some time.
#4 – We have to ‘let go’ of the loved one to get rid of the grief.
The feelings we have for those we loved never really disappear, they simply adapt to a long-distance relationship. The intense loss will eventually ease as we find comfort and peace in our memories. For Christians, we also have the assurance of seeing our loved ones again in heaven. Grief fades with time as we learn to live within our altered lifestyle; yet our loved ones remain forever in our minds and memories. You don’t need to put away the photos, clean out the closet or take off the wedding ring until you feel ready to take that step. “Get it over with” is usually not the best way to handle those life changes. Give yourself the gift of time to adapt to your new reality.
#5 – The best way to deal with grief is to be alone.
I know, we somehow feel we shouldn’t burden others with our sadness, but it’s so important not to stay isolated. God designed us to be connected and to support each other through life’s trials. That includes loss and grief. As a society, we recognize the need for connection through the rituals of visiting hours, funeral service, and breaking bread together. Similarly, there are support groups for divorce, illness or other trauma. Get together with family and friends. Don’t neglect your faith or your church family and don’t be afraid to share your memories and feelings with someone close to you. Stay connected.
Also see 5 Stages of Dealing With Grief