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
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."