Loss is a universal experience and I didn’t feel adequately equipped to help clients in their loss, so last year, I undertook studies in Bereavement Counselling with the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement. A lot of my preconceived notions about loss and grief were turned on their head. The evidence did not support some of those beliefs – beliefs about stages of grief and the like. Recently, I came across a book, that I think is the most helpful one I’ve seen on the topic – Grief is a Journey: Finding Your Path through Loss: by Dr. Kenneth J Doka (2016). It’s full of common sense that’s backed by years of evidence and experience. Dr Doka called the first chapter of his book The Myths and Realities of Grief. Over the next couple of weeks I’d like to share some of his findings with you.
The first myth he dispels is that grief is a predictable process where people progress through a number of stages of grief in an orderly manner. Most of us have heard of Elisabeth Kűbler-Ross’s five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.) We might even speculate about what stage a bereaved person is at. Kűbler-Ross saw these stages as how people cope with illness and dying, not bereavement. When a grieving person’s emotions don’t follow those predictable (but false) stages, he or she may start to doubt him/herself and their feelings. We are capable of feeling several emotions all at once and they can feel all over the place. In the same way that we are all unique and distinct individuals, our pathway through grief will be distinct and unique.
Dr Doka makes it clear that there’s no timetable to grief. People are often told they should be “over it” after a certain period of time. He urges grieving people to remember there are no “shoulds” in grieving. He likens the journey through grief as a roller coaster. Each roller coaster is different, but they all have ups and downs. Different things can trigger low points. One young lady told me that when she was out shopping and smelt somebody wearing the same perfume her beloved Gran used to wear (a couple of years later), she couldn’t believe the fresh wave of grief that hit her.
The most destructive myth (according to Dr Doka) is that grief is about letting go. Instead the reality is that we retain a continuing bond with those we love. We might express that bond in different ways. All of our loved ones contribute to our identity and help define the people we’ve become. In my own case, my daughters have defined my identity as a mother. A person never fully loses the connection with somebody they loved. It changes over time, but the memories and feelings about that person remain with them throughout life.
Space doesn’t permit me to go into any depth about these points, but if you need to have a chat anytime, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Next week, we’ll look at some more of the myths and realities about grief.