I was one of them, the people who truly did not understand the impact that a significant loss had on the survivor’s well-being and their ability to understand the magnitude of the forever-changing world that is presented to a griever following the loss. I was the one that fumbled on what to say or what to do. If my memory serves me right, I probably was the one that avoided the situation as I did not want to further upset the griever. I have learned.
I had a preconceived notion of death – don’t talk about it, don’t mention the deceased’s name, don’t upset the apple cart, don’t interfere with the family. Death is a taboo word, so hold your tongue. Boy, did I learn quickly how wrong I was. I experienced first-hand, when my husband suddenly passed away, how all those preconceived notions of death were truly myths.
All I wanted was the people around me to talk about Rod. I wanted to share every minute of his last day – what his last words were, the details of our run at lunchtime the day he died, his last words he said to our daughter, and what he was wearing. I wanted to provide a snapshot of his life to anyone who would listen and ask questions. I wanted to share stories of our marriage and his joy of parenthood. I wanted to hear all the stories that I had never heard before from his co-workers, his family, his college friends and our friends. I couldn’t get enough of Rod – yet those around me were wary of sharing as they might upset me more than I already was. How could anything upset me more – I was suddenly widowed at 31, our daughter was 2, my future had changed, I could not afford my house, I could barely change a diaper or swallow water. All I wanted was to be connected to Rod – alive or dead.
Those grieving the loss of a loved one will have different needs based on their circumstances, type of loss and the available emotional and physical support from family and friends. Each journey will present wants and needs that may differ; however, for most,understanding the myths of grief will be helpful.
Myths associated with grief:
Myth:“As a friend or family member, mentioning the deceased will cause the griever to get upset.”
Truth: The griever is already emotionally distraught. In fact, the griever would prefer to share information and stories of their loved one as a way to express the love and the loss. For the griever, mentioning the deceased shows love, care and understanding.
Myth:“The griever will reach out when they need something.”
Truth: If they knew what they needed they might reach out; however, most grievers do not know what they need. “Don’t ask, just do” should be the motto in supporting a friend or family member. Look around, figure out what is needed emotionally and physically and provide the support.
Myth:“I am not family, so I should stay away.”
Truth: This could not be further from the truth. In the 21stcentury there are blurred lines between family and friends for a variety of reasons; however, roles exist for both. Often friends understand your immediate needs as you might be similar in thoughts and spend more time together. Please don’t stay away, find your place in the healing process and help your friend.
Myth:“Grief journeys will be similar if the loss is similar.”
Truth: No two people are alike, so how can two grief journeys be alike? I have 4 sisters and we all responded to my mother’s sudden death differently based on our relationship with our mom, our proximity to our mother, the age of our children and so much more. As supporters, we are unaware of the actual financial circumstances, family dynamics and inner strength of the griever. For those reasons alone, each loss should be treated independent of others’ experiences.
Myth: “One type of loss is worse than another.”
Truth: How would I know? How would anyone really know unless they have experienced multiple significant losses? And even then, what they have learned emotionally and logically of their first loss carries over to future losses. In my own personal journey, so many people wanted to compare their losses to my loss whether it was an aging parent, child, friend or even pet. While I tried not to get defensive and even tried to listen to what they said, I always believed mine was worse. As time passed, I learned who am I to say that their loss is worse or easier than my loss. Either way, as an individual the griever needs to understand the loss and their future without their loved one.
Whether you are a family member, friend or professional in the field of grief and loss the lesson of grief myths and truths surrounding a loss are truly important in helping grievers with their individual journey. If you were to ask my advice of what do to, I would suggest the following: be present, listen to what they are saying, offer advice only when asked and trynot to compare your loss with theirs. Support the TRUTHS!
Rachel Kodanaz is an author, speaker and consultant who provides encouragement to those who are suffering a loss or setback. She is the author of Living with Loss, One Day at a Time, available at www.rachelkodanaz.com or www.amazon.com.