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Grief Part 2 - The 5 Misconceptions of grieving

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest.

Grief is just love with no place to go".

Jamie Anderson

I love the saying that grief is the price we pay for loving too much. If you are in a human body you may experience grief at many points in your life. Grief is an inevitable, inescapable part of life.

There is a common misconception that we all grieve in the same way. After supporting hundreds of people, I know that this is not true.

I remember when my father passed away 20 years ago because I had not seen him for over 15 years, I expected that I would not be impacted by his death at all, but I was very sad. Then I judged myself for not being more distraught.

According to because everyone mourns differently and for different reasons, sometimes it is common to feel that your own grieving process isn’t going 'according to the norm'. When this happens we can be hard on ourselves at a time that we really need gentleness.

Some misconceptions around the grieving process (

1. ‘I am doing it wrong’

One of the most common misconceptions about grieving is that everyone goes through it in the same way.

When it comes to healing from a loss, there’s no correct way of doing it. You might find it useful to remind yourself there’s no 'I should be feeling this way'.

Grieving isn’t about going over or following a set list of steps. It’s a unique and multidimensional healing journey.

2. ‘I should be feeling…’

Not everyone experiences all 5 stages of grief or even goes through these emotions the same way.

For example, maybe the depression stage feels more like irritability than sadness for you. And denial could be more of a sense of shock and disbelief than an actual expectation that something out of the blue will fix the loss.

The emotions used to contextualise the stages of grief aren’t the only ones you’ll experience. You might not even experience them at all, and that’s natural too.

This is no indication that your healing journey is faulty in some way. Your healing experience is unique to you and valid nonetheless.

3. ‘This goes first’

Remember, there’s no specific or linear order for the stages of grief.

You could move along the stages one by one, or you could go back and forth. Some days you might feel very sad, and the very next day you could wake up feeling hopeful. Then you could go back to feeling sad. Some days you might even feel both!

In the same way, denial isn’t necessarily the first emotion you’ll experience. Maybe your first emotional reaction is anger or depression.

This is natural and part of the healing process.

4. ‘It’s taking too long'

Coping with a loss is ultimately a deeply personal and singular experience. Many factors affect how long it takes.

Some people navigate through grief in a few days. Others take months or longer to process their loss.

You might find it useful to not set any deadlines for your process.

In grief, you’ll experience some of these emotions in waves of intensity. In time, you’ll notice this intensity decrease.

If you feel your emotions stay or increase in intensity and frequency, this might be a good time to seek professional support.

5. ‘I’m depressed’

Going through the stages of grief, particularly the depression stage isn’t equivalent to clinical depression. There’s a distinction between having clinical depression and grieving.

This means that even though some symptoms might be similar, there are still key differences between both.

For example, in grief the intense sadness will lessen in intensity and frequency as time goes by. You might even experience this sadness at the same time that you find temporary relief in happy memories from times before the loss.

When I had a termination 25 years ago, I had no idea that what I was experiencing was grief. I dropped into a depression and used alcohol to medicate my pain. I eventually sought medical treatment for my depression, but if I had acknowledged that what I was actually experiencing was grief, the healing process would have been easier.

How to help someone who is grieving

1. Listen - Perhaps one of the main legacies from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and her work is the importance of listening to the grieving person. You might have the best intentions and want to provide comforting words, but in some instances, the best support comes from just being there and making it clear that you’re available to listen to whatever and whenever they want to share.

It’s also important to accept if your loved one doesn’t want to talk with you. Give them time and space.

2. Reach out - Not everyone knows how to comfort others. It might be intimidating or overwhelming seeing someone you care about have a rough time, but don’t let these fears stop you from offering help or from being there. Lead with empathy, and the rest will follow.

3. Be practical - look for ways to ease the weight from your loved one’s shoulders. Explore the areas they might need help managing while they process their loss. This could mean helping with food preparation or grocery shopping, organising their room or house, or picking up their children from school.

4. Don’t assume - You might want to verbally offer your support, but be attentive to whatever they tell you might help them feel better. Avoid assuming or guessing 'which step' of the process they’re going through at the moment. A smiley face or no tears don’t necessarily mean they’re not grieving. A change in their physical appearance doesn’t mean they’re depressed. Wait for them to express how they feel, if they’re ready go from there.

5. Search for resources - You might have the clarity of mind and the energy to browse local support groups and organisations, call an insurance company, and find a mental health professional. The decision of reaching out for this kind of help is, of course, entirely up to the grieving person. But having the information at hand might save time whenever they’re prepared or willing to take it.

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