Nothing seems to bring out bad advice, the “you need to’s,” and those that want you to act okay so they can feel okay even if, no you are not okay, more than someone dying. It is so weird, we all die, 100% of us, 100% of our loved ones, yet we are so bad at knowing what to do when someone is grieving. Or when we ourselves of grieving.
After losing my dad in 2015, I was inundated what I came to call the Grief Conversion Therapists (the grief version of Gay Conversation Therapists – something I have been lucky to never encounter since I’m straight and live in a liberal culture), but they want you to make them comfortable that you are okay even if you are not. Many were people I had always known would be my support system if the worst were to happen. They weren’t.
The process of grief is one of the loneliest experiences in our society. One that is filled with misconceptions that we are supposed to adhere to to take care of everyone’s discomfort about us, to take care of everything aside from our own grief.
Here are what I have come to learn are the top six misconceptions about grief. To be honest I had some of them too until I lost my dad. They are so embedded in society that I assume all of us, aside from the most grief-educated, have them.
1 – Grief has a time limit. I spent the entire first year thinking that if I could make it through all the firsts – the first holidays, the first time my dog did something cute and I couldn’t share it with my dad the way I always did, that I would be okay. Not true at all! There isn’t a time limit. There are days two years later where I would be walloped with a grief worse than year one. It wouldn’t stay, but those waves, sometimes tsunamis and sometimes little ripples, are part of my life.
2 – That you need to do XYZ. There is no right way to handle grief. There is no formula. What works for one person may not at all work for another. My mom needed to dive into work. A friend of mine whose brother had passed away needed to be out partying with friends every single night. I needed to hole up. I needed to pull the blankets over my head and not participate in life or see people for months. “Oh no, you need to be around people.” “You can’t isolate like this, that can make you depressed!” Okay. I am already depressed. My dad died. And that was exactly what I needed to do. You might need to do something completely different. And that is okay.
3 – Being healed means “getting back to yourself,” as if you are recovering from the flu. Maybe that is what you do need, but for me, my old life no longer worked. And now I can say thank god! I tried to return to my old career, social life, and interests but I was no longer interested. I have evolved into a better version of myself with a new set of goals and priorities.
4 – Your life will be worse. It is okay to like your life better after your loss. I grapple with this one. My dad and I had our issues and we fought, but we were very close. However, in many ways I like my life better now than before. Yes sometimes I feel guilty about that, but no that does not mean I don’t love him with all my heart. I found new passions and interests. I feel as if the work I have found and the friends I have found are more “me” than before my loss. I am more sad in some ways, and happier in others.
5 – It is wrong to laugh. Oh that was such a hard one! The first time I laughed after my dad’s passing, I felt like the worst person ever. How could I have fun again? But laughing, as soon as you can, is so healing.
6 – You will be healed. No. Grief does not heal. It integrates and becomes a part of you. It is not like a wound or an illness. It never goes away. It transforms you and if you let it, that can be really amazing. My loss propelled me, a science-minded atheist, to examine if there was any possible evidence of an afterlife. I found more than I could have fathomed. This brings me a peace and joy I never before experienced.
So follow the process you need to for something you would never choose to happen, and you might be surprised by what unfolds.
Written by Elizabeth Entin