Grief, American Style
Dealing With Loss
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."
4. Time Heals All Wounds
"This is perhaps the most life-threatening myth," says
Friedman. "You wouldn't sit and wait for air to come back into a flat tire.
You'd take action. And a broken heart is remarkably like a flat tire." But
time is not an action. It can no more fix your heart than it can put air back
in your tire. "When the will to live, to do, to go on, are drained, you
need to take action." How? By focusing on your lost relationship -- the
good and the bad, coming to terms with what was left undone or unsaid. It can
also mean seeking professional help if you need it.
5. Be Strong for Others
Most of us are taught to hide our emotions, especially from our
children. But this is false and misguided protection, says Friedman, and in
times of loss, it can backfire. As children follow our example, they end up
swallowing their emotions. These bottled up feelings may eventually explode.
"Kids are very resilient," he says. "You can share your
emotions in a constructive way. You can be strong and human at the same
time." By teaching kids not to ever be sad, "you're also teaching them
not to be happy."
6. Keep Busy
Often when we experience a major loss, we fill every waking
hour with activities and projects, anything to keep from focusing on what has
happened. "But keeping busy doesn't fix unfinished issues between you and
whoever has died," says Friedman. "It's an illusion, and at the end of
the busy day, you haven't done anything to heal." Again, we should
focus on and analyze our lost relationship. It's the only way to come to terms
with it and move on, he says.