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Health & Balance

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Grief, American Style

Dealing With Loss


As people born and raised in Western society, the way we deal with these losses leaves a lot to be desired, says Friedman. In fact, it leaves many of us haunted, and in real pain, for years. "Loss is inevitable, but we're given no feasible structure with which to handle it," he says.

"The truth is, almost everyone in the western world, with very few exceptions, is socialized with six major myths regarding grief," he says. These pervasive behaviors and attitudes are fully entrenched in our psyches, "and in times of crisis, we go back to them." The problem is, the myths don't help us. Indeed, they may deny our healing.

The Six Myths of Grieving

1. Don't Feel Bad

"It sounds stupid to tell someone not to feel good when they feel good, but when they feel bad we tell them not to," says Friedman. Although it's perfectly natural to feel bad when something bad happens, we tell mourners 'be glad your loved one is in a better place,' or 'God won't give you more than you can handle.' This is especially harmful because "telling someone 'don't feel bad,' implies that there's no reason to feel bad," he says. Instead, simply listen and acknowledge their grief, says Friedman. "You don't have to do anything more, because they've been heard. And if they're heard, they don't blow up -- or blow up others."

2. Replace the Loss

"When my partner John was 6 years old, his dog died," says Friedman. "His parents said, 'Don't feel bad, on Saturday we'll get you a new dog.' This is diabolical because it doesn't honor that all relationships are unique and irreplaceable." And while no one would ever say, 'Don't feel bad, you'll get another mommy,' to a child who's lost his mother, we often tell couples who've lost a child that they 'can have another,' or women who've lost a spouse that 'she can start dating again.'

3. Grieve Alone

The adage 'Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone' is patently false, says Friedman. "Witness the fact that we just spent three months crying together!" In fact, he says, infants cry together. Only later are we taught and expected to cry alone. But grieving alone can be deadly. "Heart attacks shoot up 250% following the death of a spouse, compared with non-widowed people of the same age," he says. This doesn't mean we should never be alone when we mourn. "There's a very important distinction between solitude, which we need, and isolation," he says. "Solitude is a choice; isolation is not."

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