\ 5 myths about grief and 1 important truth | Dorina Lazo Gilmore

5 myths about grief and 1 important truth

After my husband’s death, I quickly discovered people had a lot to say about grief. Sometimes they would share their opinions in hopes of offering comfort. I realized oftentimes these comments were driven by myths about grief that get passed around, rather than a deeper understanding.

Through my grief journey, I have learned how vital it is to separate the misconceptions from the reality of grief. When we are grieving, we are vulnerable. People’s well-intentioned words can sting us in surprising ways. When you’re actually grieving the death of a spouse, or the loss of a child, or the loss of community when you’ve moved to a new place, comments about how you should be grieving are not helpful.

I decided to take an informal poll of some of my widow sisters and friends. The following are some common grief myths that frequently find their way into attitudes and conversations. There is great value in having conversations about how we process our grief because it helps us learn about ourselves and helps others understand our journey. Whether you are grieving yourself or supporting someone who is, I hope this will help you gain a deeper awareness of the grief process and how unique it is for each person.

Myth #1: Grief has five stages.

People often talk about these definitive five stages of grief. The five stages of grief were a theory developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969. These stages include: denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance. Some people think you go through these five stages in order and then you are done with grief.

David Kessler, co-authored a book with Kubler-Ross called On Grief and Grieving. He explains that these five stages are tools to help us identify what we are feeling. “They are not stops on some linear timeline in grief.” Grief cannot be simplified or tucked into a logical flow chart. If your grief looks different from the next person’s grief, you are not crazy.

Myth #2: Grief is linear with a beginning, middle and end.

Grief can skip, repeat, do a loop-de-loop and double back. In other words, grief is a journey, not a destination. At times, the journey feels treacherous and uphill. At other times, it’s about walking slowly forward one step at a time on a steadier path.

When I realized that my grief and loss would be with me long-term, it helped me shift my focus. I was no longer wondering when I would “get over it.” I was free to concentrate more on how to grieve well. I have to be intentional to check in with myself. Around certain anniversaries, I know I need to carve out space for grief. When I am unexpectedly triggered by grief, I need to give myself the gift of grace.

Myth #3: Time heals.

I have heard some widow friends talk about how the first year after their husband’s deaths were the hardest. I have heard others say that year 4 and 5 are the most difficult. One friend explained it this way. Time doesn’t heal loss. Over time we simply get more used to our new normal and how to live with the loss.

My grief counselor once suggested that grief is more like a tangled ball of yarn. You never know exactly what you are unraveling. It’s a mix of many threads and emotions and we need to give ourselves time to untangle these at our own pace.

Myth #4: You shouldn’t feel joy or happiness while grieving.

A few weeks after my husband’s funeral, some friends invited the girls and me to a concert. We desperately needed to get out of the house. That night I discovered how important it was for us to let that music wash over us. The girls laughed and danced with their friends. I was filled with such surprising peace and joy after such a long season of caregiving for my husband and watching his health deteriorate.

After the concert, a friend who I hadn’t seen in years came up to me and burst into tears. I wasn’t particularly close with her, and I wasn’t even sad in that moment. She sobbed into my shoulder and told me how sorry she was for what we had endured. I appreciated her words and willingness to reach out to me, but later I felt a little guilty. Maybe I should have acted sadder. Maybe I shouldn’t be out at concerts laughing and dancing with my daughters so soon after my husband’s death. These ridiculous thoughts swirled in my head.

I brought these questions about my grief to God. I realized then through His gentle reminders that I was free to grieve in my way. Over time, I have learned that every day can be filled with joy and grief dancing together. As Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4 reminds us: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens… a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

Myth #5: The goal of grief is to “find closure” and move on.

I have encountered this attitude in different conversations since my husband died. People long for us to be “ok” so they ask questions like: “Do you have closure about your husband’s death?” Or they say, “It looks like you’ve moved on.”

As a person who is still very much grieving the death of my husband and my children’s father, I’m never quite sure what to say. I have an indescribable peace in my heart that God is and will continue to use my husband’s death for His glory. I trust God in this. I’ve already had the privilege of seeing the way He has saved lives, encouraged souls, inspired people to draw closer to their families, and bolstered the faith of my daughters because of Ericlee’s death.

Do I have closure? No. Am I ready to move on? No. I am moving forward. Day by day, step by step, decision by decision, I am moving forward. I am not closing a chapter. I am not getting over him. I am moving into a season where I have a choice to live his legacy and remember him in a new way.

***

I’ve shared with you five common myths about grief. Let’s end with this truth. We can’t fit grief into a box or a series of stages. Jesus is our model throughout his ministry that we need to lean into the unique experiences of individuals who are grieving.

My favorite example is the way Jesus took time to weep with Mary and Martha over the death of their brother Lazarus. John 11:33 says, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”

We learn in verse 35 that Jesus actually wept. He knew that Lazarus would later be raised from the dead, but he still takes time to weep with his friends. He knew they needed Him. He enters into their pain, and through His presence offers comfort. He weeps with each of us in our grief today. And, in turn, we have the opportunity to be present with someone who is grieving.

 

**I want to learn from you. What are some of the myths about grief that you’ve heard? What has your journey been like? I’ll be sharing part two of this series later this month. I hope you will add some of your own experiences in the comments.

*Photo by Killian Pham on Unsplash

*Disclosure: Affiliate links are used with no extra cost to readers.

About Dorina Gilmore

I grew up on the South Side of Chicago and then was transplanted to Central California after college. I'm officially a California girl now. My husband died of melanoma cancer in 2014, but in God's wild grace He brought my new husband Shawn to redeem our family. I have three daughters. When I'm not writing or speaking, I'm trail running, knitting or chasing sunsets at the ocean. My passion is helping people navigate grief and discover God's glory in the process.

16 Comments

  • Sunny says:

    I lost my Grandpa and my best friend this year. I very much enjoy reading everything you write and appreciate that I have you to guide me through the grieving process. I had someone tell me that after the funeral, their death would become real to me. But I am learning that it’s at random moments when I feel the pain of losing them. You are right, there has absolutely been no time line. <3

  • Lisa Appelo says:

    So glad to see you address these grief myths. They set up expectations that don’t hold true to research or experience and do a disservice to those who desperately need to know what grief feels like and how to move forward. I’m sharing today.

  • So good, Dorina! Everything in your words rings so true!

  • Claire says:

    I absolutely love this. So much truth and wisdom. I’m sorry for your loss, and glad that God has blessed you with someone special for this season of your life.

  • Tammy says:

    I lost my father unexpectedly this past week. I am heartbroken there are times I feel I can’t breathe, your words were just what I needed. Thank you

  • Dorina. This is so true. My husband, daughter, and I were in a horrific accident that took us years to heal from and we each had to wade through the waters of grief. Yes. It was not linier. And often we were in different stages. Well, except we were all in depression for long periods of time together. I remember my husband was gushing about being alive when I was upset I wasn’t dead. Ugg. And yes, there can still be joy in the midst. I remember laughing with my sister so much in my hospital room. Joy and happiness can be such a blessing during painful periods Thanks for your thoughts. May you continue to move forward and live your husband’s legacy in such a beautiful way. You inspire me.

  • Nancy Walter says:

    I lost my adult son and there are times I think of him that I wonder will I ever get use to not hearing his voice or talking to him every day. I know that he is better off as he had liver cancer and was in pain. I am old and the grief I have will be with me until its my time. No one knows what grief is in losing a child eve if its a growing man. I know that he will also be on my mind as he did a lot of things to my house as he was very handy person. I know he is with the Lord and that helps the grief a lot.

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