Debunk Those Jell-O Grief Myths!
Contrary to popular advice, what if we never actually "get over" certain deaths - and that advice to "get over it" is just shaky Jell-O? What if it is not even possible to "get over" it? What if the secret to deep compassion and empathy is our own awareness of the fragile beauty of what we lost?
Well-meaning friends and family often offer us the same pretty Jell-O platitudes that they were served in their crisis. But sadly, they discovered that they could not find any substance to it and it even melts under heat. Our culture teaches us to acquire but leaves us ill-equipped to deal with loss and now they too are at a loss to offer you anything better.
Here are some of those common myths of grief that we pass from generation to generation. Don’t plan to build your recovery on them, they just won't hold up.
1. The Myth: Isn’t it time you moved on? The truth is we can't - grief takes longer then most people think. We can't zip-lock our broken heart, drop it in the deep freeze and soldier on without it. Some of us have heroically tried this but as time goes by, we wonder why we feel flat and dead. This is what happens when we try to live from our logic not our hearts – in a kind of detached Mr. Spock style. To enjoy great love means we suffer greatly at its loss, after all, grief is love turned inside-out. I loved my granddaughter even before she was born and was overwhelmed with joy at her birth. Grief can also overwhelm us, not with joy, but with a crushing, suffocating avalanche of pain. We hurt deeply because we loved deeply, and the more we loved, the more avalanche there is to dig through. But dig we must, otherwise our hearts can freeze over. We are the ones who know how deep that avalanche is and the delicateness of the process and the timing.
2. The Myth: You should stay busy. A very busy social calendar, or excessive working, shopping, exercise, internet, eating or sex, drugs and alcohol will all drag grief on because of avoidance. You do forget your grief in your busyness, the ache will still be there afterwards. As time passes, the unprocessed grief gets stuck in you like old baked-on food turning smelly and moldy, and becomes harder to deal with. Take the time to face the broken dreams, to sit in the rubble and sort out who you were, who they were and what you really lost. You will discover the special and beautiful things in the ashes, dig them out, shine them up and use them in your own rebuilding. You will become an updated and better you, more accurately reflecting what you deeply value.
3. The Myth: Time heals all wounds. The truth is time itself does not heal, but what you do with the time helps you to heal. Healing from loss is like an amputee who has to deal with great pain and has to have the wound cleansed and the dressings changed for healing. Even then, they have to learn new ways of doing and being and how to live around their loss. When my son was killed, I felt like my arm was ripped off taking a huge chunk of my heart with it. It felt like an amputation: I was in shock then in profound pain and anger while learning to live a new way of being and in a new normal that I never wanted. To heal, I had to let the grief happen – it seemed to have a mind of its own. It is not a linear path through stages, but more like a switchback out of a dark valley. I also needed to complete my relationship with him and to express the depths of my loss. In the evenings, after the busyness of the day, grief exploded through the barn doors of control and I wept until I had no tears left. Not everyone cries though. A friend mindlessly filed her nails for hours on end while men often will often pound nails into boards for hours on end - or sigh. Grief and loss breaks us into pieces and time heals but only if we properly care for our wound for maximum healing.
4. The Myth: Be strong. It is a version of “Big Boys and girls don’t cry,” from a society that does not know how to handle the strong and natural emotions of loss. "Be strong" is an appeal to use our intellect to deal with emotional pain. But the problem is that the brain is not broken, the heart is. We may try to pretend our devastated emotions are doing okay especially if now we feel ashamed of them too. It is more helpful to let the dam break in a place you feel accepted and safe. Men like to do that alone in the car where they don’t have to be strong for anyone!
5. The Myth: Don’t talk about the loved one. Friends think they are saving you grief by not talking about your loved one. They may try to convince you to do the same but the opposite is true! A year after my son died, I joined his friends for an awards ceremony for Hope Rises, a documentary that he helped to create. My heart sang to hear his name and it soared when one after another, they told great stories about, my son, Ben that I had never heard – like he was alive again.
We have the heartbreaking and exhausting assignment of walking out of the valley of the shadow of death. Let’s debunk these wimpy unsubstantial myths that left us burning our energy and wondering why we are not making progress. Instead, knowing we do not "get over" or ever forget our loved one, let's use the loss to transform us. It is time to abandon shaky weak Jell-O ideas so we can replace them with ideas that really help.
More on that next time.
Blessings, take heart and keep moving forward through the dark valley - light is coming.
For more helpful blog articles scroll down. Included are Birthday Parties in Heaven, He is not here, Just tell Me What Happened and The Worst Nightmare plus helpful Renewing Resilience Tips.
If you are facing loss, get the support you need. For additional resources, including a no-obligation personal coaching session, on, "Find your gold for healing the heartbreak" with Helga Bender MThS, click here.
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