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3 More Myths About Grief (Part 2)

grief grief support grieving daughter Dec 06, 2022
myths about grief

By: Ilana Shapiro Yahdav | Special thanks to the Grief Recovery Institute for teaching me the myths about grief. To learn even more about the myths, read The Grief Recovery Handbook.

In our last blog, 3 Myths that Perpetuate Negative Copings Mechanisms, we discussed the first of 6 myths about grief: don’t feel bad, grieve alone, and time heals all wounds. We explored how these myths actually perpetuate negative coping mechanisms and provide incorrect information about grief and loss that can be detrimental in the long run. Let’s dive into the other three most common grief myths and continue our process of discovery. 

1. Replace the Loss.

Each and every relationship is unique so it’s not actually possible to ever replace a loss, any loss. It is incredibly unhelpful that we are encouraged to ‘replace’, and find something/someone new.

  • If we lost our favorite pair of shoes, yes, we could buy another pair, but they still wouldn’t be the same. 
  • If we broke up with a partner, we could find someone new - maybe even better for us - but it still won’t replace that loss, the heartbreak, the memories. How many of us have been told that “there are plenty of fish in the sea?”  
  • If your beloved pet dies, you can adopt a new one, and fall in love with it as well, but it will never replace the love you had for the other. How many of us have barely finished sharing that our pets’ died when someone suggests going to a shelter to adopt a new one?
  • If a loved one dies, we can’t replace them. No explanation is needed here. This is actually truly hard to write and even harder to be heard when grieving, but how many of us have been told - that you could remarry, have more children, make new friends, etc.? 

The truth is, you cannot ever replace what is lost. 

Trying to replace what is lost can actually be more detrimental as any new relationship is not given a clean slate.  Any new relationship is through the lens of what was lost. This is limiting to both yourself and others.  When we don’t take the time to process our pain, and quickly jump to the next thing, we are not doing ourselves - or anyone else involved - any favors. 

It is important to process our pain, and work through it so that we can show up fully and openly for whatever is next for us. 

The Grief Recovery Method, which both Kim and I teach, is an incredibly powerful evidence-based tool to work through the pain around our loss(es) so that it does not hold us back in the future. It takes intentional effort and hard heart work, but is totally worth it. 

I remember when Zeffy (full name Zefram Cochrane), formerly my dad’s cat, died. This was about 11 years after my dad died. Zeffy’s death threw me into a total grief tailspin. It brought up a lot of grief around my dad, as in my mind, Zeffy was deeply connected to him. I also loved Zeffy immensely - he helped me get through many deaths and heartbreaks. I remember thinking to myself that I could never ever love another feline again. Losing Harry (my 23-pound orange lovebug -  full name Ensign Harry Kim) a few years prior to Zeffy and now Zeffy, I was done giving my heart to a four-legged fur baby. 

As I really strive to practice what I preach, I started working with my own Grief Recovery Method Specialist to go even deeper into my grief around my dad and work through my grief around Zeffy. I was surprised by just how much grief I still had around my dad’s death and how Zeffy’s death really brought it to the surface. Through lots of my own heart work and soul searching, I was able to face many things that I was not able to for almost a decade. 

I also realized how much I missed having a feline. I missed my Harry and Zeffy and came to a place where I believed that my fur boys would be happy if I had another feline to take care of me. 

Long story short, after about 5 months, and 3 visits to the animal shelter later (2 visits ending in tears and coming home empty-handed), we met our new fur princess, Kira (full name Major Kira Nerys).  Because of all the grief work I did, I can honestly say how much I love this crazy fur girl AND how much I miss and love my fur boys.  And of course, I still miss my dad too.

2) Be strong for others. 

When my father died, a relative told me that I needed to pull myself together before my little brother got home. It was not going to be good for my little brother to see me in my full grief tornado. Unfortunately for that relative, I couldn’t get it together before my brother got home. In fact, if I’m being really honest here, it took closer to a decade to get myself together. That relative had long since passed and never did get to witness my healing. 

This message is not uncommon and my situation was not unique in that regard. Many people, at some point in their life, are told to be strong for others, either directly or indirectly. And sometimes we can be so focused on trying to be strong for others, that we forget to be strong for ourselves. We get so caught up in helping others that we fully deplete ourselves until there is nothing left and we are forced to look inward and be there for ourselves. 

When my dad got sick, he called my mother, Xena, the warrior princess. My mom was brave and took care of all of us. I was a mess so while I tried to help, I think sometimes I was extra work for her. When my dad died, my mom handled it ALL. ALL. OF. IT.  Again, I tried to help, but I literally wanted to keep pretty much everything that my dad owned to either put in a shrine or keep safe in case he came back…  (I know, I know..) 

My mom took care of us all.  She modeled what it was like to be an amazing support and caregiver, and what it means to show up for family. What she didn’t model, however, was her own self-care and working through her own grief.  I can also attest that she never had it modeled for her either and she was in total autopilot.  Now, I am by no means criticizing my mom or any of my ancestors, no.  

She’s my hero. But, both of us had to, and still are, learning how to grieve my dad and be strong for ourselves in addition to supporting each other. She’s on her own non-linear grief journey.

We do not need to be strong for others.  There is a difference between being strong for others and being supportive of others. We are all responsible for our emotions (children are a different category and a whole other topic which we will cover in another blog).  

We can take care of each other and still make sure that we are taking care of ourselves.  It’s by no means easy or clear cut but is incredibly important. You literally and figuratively CANNOT POUR from an EMPTY CUP.  It just doesn’t work. 

We can still take care of others by showing them our true feelings.  In fact, modeling vulnerability can be a true gift and create safety for others to do the same.  This is not to dump your pain on others, but to show what’s true for you, model that, and give others the space to do the same. 

3) Keep Busy. 

How many of us have been told to simply keep busy?  How many of us kept super busy in the hopes of feeling better? But if you think back, how did you really feel?  Perhaps you felt different, but not necessarily better.  Perhaps you kept super busy all day, but what happened when you had a few moments to yourself?  Was all the grief and pain still there?  If you’re anything like me, I’m going to say yes, it was. 

After my dad died, I tried to stay super busy: doing workout DVDs, trying to learn Spanish, volunteering to teach English as a second language, helping my uncle out with some things for his new company, and drinking too much wine with my mom.  Occasionally I would go out and party too hard.

I tried to keep as busy as possible, and I can say by no means did I feel better.  In fact, I overcommitted to things that I simply was not cognitively able to deliver on.  I eventually had to bow out of helping my uncle (I still feel bad about this), and stopped going to Spanish classes.  My grief brain literally could not absorb anything. 

I eventually went back to China (where I had been living until shortly before my Dad died) and threw myself totally and fully into working hard and partying hard.  I kept this up for about another year and a half until my body and mind simultaneously told me it was enough and I needed to get real grief support (that does not include Tequila shots), and fast. 

I don’t regret my convoluted messy non-linear grief journey.  It truly helped me be the Grief Specialist that I am today. Without those experiences, I don’t think that I’d be able to relate to and serve the grievers I work with in the same way as I can now.

Sometimes we need to keep busy.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.  But, it’s important to be aware of when we feel ‘different’ versus feeling ‘better’.  It’s okay to want to zone out, to ‘forget’ for a brief time. 

Sometimes our psyche literally needs that.  But, in the long run, it’s not going to benefit us and will catch up to us at some point and in some way. 

Sometimes, we really do need to slow down to speed up. 

And you don’t have to do it alone. 

There are many, many resources out there, including Kim and me. 

Bringing it all together

We were not taught or given the right tools to work through our grief and loss. We are told to be strong for others, show up with a smile to the rest of the world, hide whatever pain we have festering on the inside, replace our loss and keep busy.  But, how unhelpful is this advice?  We can liken it to being told to paint a room with a hammer. 

Grief has been a super taboo topic for a long time (and in some ways still is).  It has been that elephant in the room that we all know is there, but no one really wants to address. 

It’s time for all that to change.  We need to be having these conversations, debunking unhealthy myths, and supporting one another.

Literally, NO ONE is immune from grief.  We will all have a grieving experience at some point in our life. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all support one another and not have to go at it alone?  It won’t take the pain away, no, but it could make grief more palatable for all of us. 

If you would like to continue this conversation and explore how the myths might be impacting your own grief, we would love to help.