On average, we experience the loss of a loved one about every thirteen years. There are two million deaths each year in America. If there are three survivors in the family for every deceased, there are six million new grievers every year. If you live upto your 80th birthday, you may not have any playmates left. Loss of a loved one is an inevitable part of life which strikes at us repeatedly, yet, we are most ill prepared for it. We, as a society, have misconceived notions about how we should handle our grief. Such misconceptions make the process of grieving more painful than it needs to be. In this article, I will attempt to clarify some of the misconceptions regarding how we should handle our loss.
Misconception 1. "If you're not handling your grief well, you are a weakling." This notion about grieving has filtered down so deep into our psyche that many of us own it without question. We tell ourselves, "I'm not handling my grief well, I must be a weak person," without realizing it is by actively grieving that we are acting most like a normal person. Let's understand, normal grief is not handled; it merely runs its course. Grief is not a silent reaction. Sometimes, grief lets out as a scream.
Misconception 2. "If I am hurting so bad, I must be losing my
mind." This notion is based on an unrealistic assumption that if
you lose someone you love, you shouldn't hurt so badly. The truth
is that if you lose someone you really love, you'll "hurt bad."
Misconception 3. "If you are so wrapped up with your grief, you really don't care about us." In many instances, friends and family of a bereaved person who lost his or her spouse or child feel ignored or let down. They resent the grieving process especially if it has gone on too long, according to their idea of how long should grieving really take.
Misconception 4. "Talking about the loss or the lost person will make it worse." This fear that talking about if will lead to out of control feeling is totally misguided. Talking about it may elicit very intense feelings. Display of intense emotions may occur at that moment, but in the long run talking about it helps the bereaved to come to terms with grief. Go for it.
Misconception 5. "Grieving is a very personal thing. I don't need to burden anyone else with my grief." In fact, grief is meant to be a community affair. Grief rites and customs in most of the societies invite members of their community to mourn publicly.
Misconception 6. "Don't disturb her (or him), s/he is grieving." In fact, by knocking on the door of, or calling the bereaved on the phone, you're communicating to him/ her something to the effect, "I am thinking about you. I'm here for you. Let me know if there is something I can do for you."
Misconception 7. "In order to overcome my grief, I'll have to forget my loved one. This, I shall never do." The fact is that coming to terms with grief does not at all require forgetting the loved one. Forgetting is not human. We only forget acquaintances, not loved ones. However, the pain lessens, you reminisce without despair, and you learn to live in absence of the lost person.
Misconception 8. "For social etiquette, I must look like I'm in control of my feelings." Being in control of your feelings during the mourning is not real or normal. If you feel like crying, you should feel you have the right to cry. That indeed should be the social etiquette. If that's not the norm of our society today, we should protest against it and change it.
Misconception 9. "To help the bereaved, we should change the subject
or try to distract him/her in some other way." There is no gain in
running away. Remember there is no gain without pain. The way
to overcome grief is not around it, but through it.
Misconception 10. True greatness and courage requires acting like the British Royal Family. Show no signs of upset in public." The fact is that even the British Royal family had to eat the humble pie and mourn as mourning should be.
Misconception 11. "To be loyal and nice to the bereaved, I should regret all the wrongs of the past. I should feel bad for everything I could've done different or better." Regretting or feeling bad about that which you can't do anything about is totally unproductive. Work on what you can do presently in the memory of the loved one and for the benefit of the survivors.
Misconception 12. To overcome my grief, I should try to replace
the loss. I should get involved with anyone and everyone. I
should grab all I can before it's gone. I should cling to the surviving
loved ones harder than I did before." The truth is that all of the
above are knee-jerk reactions. Desperate actions to get rid of your
grief may not lessen your grief and most likely will complicate your life.
The opening statement in the "Bill of Rights of the Bereaved" should be as follows,"You don't have to put on a happy face and you don't have to pretend as if you have recovered from grieving.
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Dr. Vijai Sharma
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