July 7, 2018 Brigitte Ganger

Don't Speak Ill of the Dead (And Other Nonsense We Learn about Grief)

7 outdated notions about death that need to go

Don't Speak Ill of the Dead (And Other Nonsense We Learn about Grief)
Lot's of ideas we have about death come from outdated or religious sources that should be challenged (but not necessarily rejected outright) by modern grievers. (Shutterstock)

Many of the ideas modern society holds about death date back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. While some notions about processing grief are timeless, others can be downright toxic. Today we are exploring some of the outdated nonsense we still believe when someone passes. 

1. Don't speak ill of the dead.

Every few years a brutally honest obituary goes viral, prompting an uncomfortable ethical debate about whether or not it is appropriate to speak ill of the dead. There are reasons not to attack those who have passed away. For one, they are no longer here to defend themselves, and many people consider this to be a cheap shot. 

But no one's impact on earth dies with them. The good and bad we do while living lasts as long as there are people to remember. Just because someone dies does not mean that they never existed. Part of grief is processing the life story of the person who has passed—warts and all. 

Most people prefer to be remembered as they were. 

2. Time heals all wounds.

Contrary to the old adage, time does not heal all wounds. Feeling uncomfortable with complex grief emotions can lead to avoiding those feelings. Ignoring or avoiding tough emotions will not help them heal.

Time is certainly a factor in healing, but only when the bereaved individual uses that time to process their feelings in a healthy manner. Many sad people have ignored their feelings, only to find their grief just as upsetting and insurmountable 10 years down the road.

3. You'll get over it.

It's a mistake to think of bereavement as an obstacle to overcome. Though grief does get easier, it's not something that ever gets left behind. You won't get over it. Your deceased loved one will become a part of you forever. 

But that doesn't mean your grief will be intense and disruptive for the rest of your life! You will find a new normal after some time that is as comfortable as life was before the loss. Unfortunately, it will take a lot of emotional work, but you will be stronger for the experience.

4. The five stages of grief are the best way to process a loss.

The five stages of grief can be helpful for those who are grieving—as long as it's understood that this method is not intended to be prescriptive. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance may occur in sequential order, but more than likely you will experience all or some of these stages non-linearly. There's no need to worry if your grief doesn't match what others experience. In fact, comparing yourself to others can lead to additional stress over what your perceived progress should look like. 

5. Children shouldn't go to funerals.

Young children are capable of grief. So why are they so often shielded from healthy expressions of grief? Preventing a child from moving through each phase of bereavement doesn't lessen their grief. If the child is old enough to understand that the deceased person is missing from their life, and mature enough to behave through a service, they should be given the option to attend. Even if they choose not to go to a memorial service, their caregiver should ensure they receive adequate support or counseling.

6. The universe never gives you more than you can handle.

Though this old adage is used as motivation when people are on the verge of giving up, it's not technically true. Many people face adversity that is beyond their ability to handle, and therefore need support in order to cope. Hearing the contrary when you feel like you are faced with an impossible situation can be incredibly invalidating to some people.

7. Grief lasts about one year.

While the most intense parts of grief generally subside after some time has passed, there is no concrete timeframe for when bereavement will ease. If constant severe emotional distress plagues you for over a year, consider seeking a qualified counselor. They may be able to help you process the loss in a healthy and healing way. 

The takeaway

Like anything, advice you get about grief should be taken with a grain of salt. For some, the points mentioned in this list are useful for framing the way they think about death. Though each contains a kernel of truth, it's important to challenge notions that are misleading, or in some cases even toxic.

Shedding some of these old-fashioned ideas about death may help you manage your emotions and gain control faster. Take what helps, and leave what doesn't. 

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