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7 Myths of Grief We Need to Dismantle

By Harriet Cabelly March 25, 2024 Mindset

We live in a grief illiterate society. We don’t like talking about death, the most certain and inevitable life event; and the one that comes to the forefront of our minds when we talk about grief. But grief shows itself around any and all losses. We grieve a break-up of a relationship, a divorce, an illness, a disability, retirement, empty-nesting, and more of life’s natural and critical transitions.

We don’t do well around sadness, our own or others’. We want to immediately jump in to make them, or ourselves feel better. We have good intentions, but we are uncomfortable around emotional pain. We often bring in a flair of cheeriness, a host of platitudes like, “You’ll get over it,” or a wave of “This too shall pass.”

Whether we feel vulnerable or it hits too close to home, we deflect to try to make it better. But better for whom? It’s when we sit with another’s pain, or our own, and allow for the deeply sad feelings to be felt that comfort and healing eventually comes.

As the saying goes, “You can’t heal what you don’t feel.” We have to go through the pain to come through it. And as Brene Brown says, “Together we will cry and face fear and grief. I will want to take away your pain, but instead I will sit with you and teach you how to feel it.”

Let’s look at a few myths around grief that need debunking so we can better serve our loved ones in their time of loss and grief, and so that we are better prepared to deal with our own grief.

Myth #1: Grief Is a Problem to Be Fixed

It is not a problem to be solved; it is a natural life occurrence that needs to be processed. Grief needs to be given a voice. And so we sit with the difficult feelings, as much as we’d like to shove them aside; and we sit and witness the other’s pain.

Myth #2: Grief Comes in Stages

The five stages of grief as set forth by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross are not linear. And not everyone experiences them all. It is not a rigid formula for working through the pain. One can go through some or all of them at any point in time, in any order.

Myth #3: Grief Is Grief and Looks the Same in All

Although grief is universal, how one goes through it is very individual. There is no one right way to do it. What is for all is that it does need to be felt and gone through. Ignoring it will not help it go away. To assume that if one is not crying, then they must be doing fine, couldn’t be further from the truth. Many tears are shed on the inside and many only cry in private.

Myth #4: Grief Is Eventually Gotten Over

There is no official end point to grief. We don’t get over it. We don’t move on; we move forward with it. We carry the loss and love with us forever. There’s no closure to grief. It changes with time. The puzzle piece remains missing and empty within us. We don’t look to replace it. Rather we grow around the hole, expanding our lives, taking along our loved one.

Myth #5: Grief Has a Calendar

Comments like, “It’s been a year, aren’t you over it yet?” or, “The second year should be much easier,” can feel dismissive and alienating. There is no timetable for grief. For many the first year is the hardest; for many others the second and third year can be brutal when the distractions of the concrete work are done, and the emotions come crashing through.

Myth #6: Grief Means No Joy or Laughter

We can hold pain and joy together. One doesn’t preclude the other. And if one is experiencing some enjoyment, it doesn’t mean grief is done and can be dismissed as, “They’re over it and have moved on” (see point 4). As the sun peeks through the clouds, we allow for moments of smiles, laughter and joy to move us. It lets us know we’re still alive. Our loved ones would not want us to die with them.

Myth #7: Grief Wants to Talk About the Loss

We tend to not want to bring the elephant out of the closet. As if we’d be reminding the griever to feel bad again. I always remember a friend telling me how when people invited him out for meals the first year after his wife died and he’d bring her up in conversation, everyone would immediately change the subject. Plans for their new kitchen, gossip about someone else would fill in their awkwardness. It left him feeling bereft and more alone. Now whose discomfort was that??

I invite us to step out of our comfort zone and tune in to another’s grief, be with others where they’re at, invite in and be a witness to grief; and become attuned listeners without bringing it back to oneself. The greatest gift we can give someone is our complete attention focused solely on them.

You may find this video helpful:

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Have you experienced any of the myths of grief? Which one was the most difficult to understand for yourself? And for others’?

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When I lost my dad, I got stuck on a grief Plateau, After crying every day for 18 months, my husband urged me to get professional help. Don’t be afraid to get help. She and I figured out what was happening so I could continue the grieving process. The author is right, we’re grief illiterate. So, a guide is helpful.

Harriet Cabelly

Hi Roxanne, So glad your husband encouraged you to get some professional support. A little guidance goes a long way. May you continue on your healing journey.

Marian Davis

I guess I would like to add another number to the list: Grief isn’t always about death. When my husband left me for a younger woman after 35 years of what I thought was a happy marriage, I most definitely experienced the stages of grief just as if he had died (and I am still experiencing them after 18 months). The difference was that I did not get the kind of support I would have gotten if he had actually died. Instead people assumed I would not grieve someone who was obviously a jerk and friends, while sympathetic, told me I was “better off” without him and assumed I would get over it faster. Not so!


Check out Heartbreak by Florence Williams. She was also on the podcast, a Slight Change of Plans. Helpful.

Harriet Cabelly

Hi Jane, Thank you for these two recommendations. Always good to get more resources for knowledge, wisdom, encouragement, inspiration and the connection that others have gone and come through great difficulties.

Harriet Cabelly

Hi Marian, First of all I am so sorry. As I wrote in my first paragraph here above, loss comes in all ways and grief is the natural response to loss. Of course a divorce is a huge loss and grief is intense around a break-up. We are a grief illiterate culture and people just don’t know what to say and how to handle someone’s pain, often because of their own discomfort. Words can seem like quick fixers but instead they fall short completely on further alienating the person in pain. It becomes a double whammy – first the breakup and then the lack of healing emotional support. Perhaps finding a divorce support group will provide the understanding and camaraderie
you so need at this time.


I think that kind of grief is a particularly hard one. You thought you were in a happy marriage and then you discover something so awful. You didn’t just lose a husband but I imagine you have also lost those 35 years, because they didn’t exist in the way you thought they had. Very best wishes to you in your future.

Eileen Johnson

Not everyone can understand the great relationship a mother and daughter can have. I do because that is what I had. My mother’s death has been so hard on me. After the first year of numbness I am facing the second year of reality. I’ve had little support in my grief but feeling her so close in my heart is healing. 💞

Harriet Cabelly

Hi Eileen, I love how you word this: “first year of numbness and second year or reality”. So very true. I hope you find some support; and I’m glad that holding/feeling her close is of comfort.


My 38 year old son took his life 4.5 years ago. It was unexpected and no note was left. The loss was what it was and what the event did to the family was out unbelieveable. Everyone has their own way. I didn’t cry…I felt like I should be sobbing and blobbering all over the place if I really loved him The things you do to yourself. I loved my son. I read 12 books on suicide so I could maybe understand what happened. That brought me peace.
He is loved and missed.

Harriet Cabelly

Hi Marcia, I’m so sorry about the loss of your son by suicide. There are no ‘shoulds’ when it comes to grieving. Like you say, “everyone has their own way.” I’m glad reading has brought you some understanding and peace. You will carry your love for him with you forever.

Carol Anne Cole

I understand what you are saying. When my mom died (not the same as losing your child, tho), I was devastated, and yet two years later I still haven’t cried. I just became deeply sad. A year later when my brother died, I cried for about half an hour only and felt even more sad. It just feels empty, like life has lost some of its lustre. I was close with them, but I feel like they are still here, perhaps above, watching over everything. My cousin committed suicide when quite young, and my mom used to tell me that his mother felt like she was always trying to figure out what she could have done to prevent it. It is just so awful for the family. Our entire family worries about each other now, whenever anyone is down, because of that.


Misunderstanding of Kubler Ross’s five stages is extremely widespread. She was talking about a terminally ill patient coming to terms with their impending death. She was not talking about the grief that someone goes through when they lose a loved one. The terminally ill patient eventually dies, and so no longer feels the sadness and fear of their coming death. But the person who’s lost a loved one has to live with it for the rest of their lives. I wish people would stop talking about closure because I don’t believe there’s any such thing. People pressure the grieving person to feel closure because they are uncomfortable witnessing the bereft person’s ongoing sadness. It changes over time but may never go away

Harriet Cabelly

Hi Jan, Yes and yes! There is no such things as closure, as you say. And yes, people are uncomfortable around other’s sadness and pain. And it changes over time as you say. Excellent points here! Thank you.

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The Author

Harriet Cabelly is a clinical social worker and positive psychology coach. She is passionate about helping people cope and grow through their critical life-changing circumstances, guiding them towards rebuilding their lives with renewed meaning and purpose. Visit her website, and sign up to get free chapters from her book, Living Well Despite Adversity.

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