Even though every single one of us will experience grief during our lifetimes, several misconceptions about it have burrowed their way into our public consciousness.
The most common myth? That grief proceeds through five tidy, predictable stages. A grief and bereavement expert I spoke to offered this anecdote to illustrate just how ingrained this notion has become in our culture.
“I have a colleague in private practice, and she has people come in and she has people come in and ask for counselling because they haven’t ‘done’ this or that stage of grief,” she said.
In some cases, a grieving individual was seeking therapy on the insistence of a family member who believed that after a specific amount of time—perhaps a year—their loved one should have gotten past their grief.
And that lack of understanding can cause us to unintentionally worsen the pain of a grieving person by falling back on pat phrases, such as ‘at least she didn’t suffer’, or ‘God never gives us more than we can handle.’
I spent part of the summer of 2020 interviewing grief and bereavement experts after my editor at Good Times assigned me a feature story on the subject.
Because of the lead time it takes to put together a print magazine, the story was slated to run in late 2020.
Before that, however, the COVID pandemic struck, and the world changed overnight.
It was bad enough that thousands of Canadians were dying of the disease. To make matters immeasurably more difficult for everyone concerned, often these people died among strangers. In an effort to control transmission, friends and family members weren’t allowed into hospitals. Some families never got to say goodbye to a mother, father, or sister. Others spent a few precious moments connected through video chat. Funerals and memorial services were delayed, sometimes indefinitely, or limited to a handful of mourners at the graveside.
While I would have argued that all this made publishing an article on grief especially timely, decision-makers at Good Times felt the subject was simply too raw. The story was set aside….until now.
Certain aspects of the article may be even more relevant today than they would’ve been in the early months of the pandemic. For example, the effects of grief can be cumulative, and many people have suffered multiple losses of different kinds in the past two and a half years.
My heartfelt thanks to the interviewees who so generously shared their time, expertise, and personal experience:
- Ann Bacciaglia, of Ottawa, Ont.
- Susan Cadell, a professor in the School of Social Work at Renison University College/University of Waterloo, in Waterloo, Ont.
- Jenny Hauser, of London, Ont.
- Dr. Christopher MacKinnon, a psychologist and director of training at Psychologie Mont Royal in Montreal, and a psychosocial specialist with the Canadian Virtual Hospice.
- Grace Tallman, a grief counsellor with A Stronger You in London, Ont.