“Killer Clichés” About Loss
by Russell Friedman & John W. James of The Grief Recovery Institute
We have all been educated on how to acquire things. We have been taught how to get an education, get a job, buy a house, etc. There are colleges, universities, trade schools, and technical schools. You can take courses in virtually anything that might interest you.
What education do we receive about dealing with loss? What school do you go to learn to deal with the conflicting feelings caused by significant emotional loss? Loss is so much more predictable and inevitable than gain, and yet we are woefully ill-prepared to deal with loss.
One of the most damaging killer clichés about loss is “time heals all wounds.” When we present open lectures on the subject of Grief Recovery®, we often ask if anyone is still feeling pain, isolation, or loneliness as the result of the death of a loved one 20 or more years ago. There are always several hands raised in response to that question. Then we gently ask, “if time is going to heal, then 20 years still isn’t enough?”
While recovery from loss does take some time, it need not take as much time as you have been led to believe. Recovery is totally individual, there is no absolute time frame. Sometimes in an attempt to conform to other people’s time frames, we do ourselves great harm. This idea leads us to another of the killer clichés, “you should be over it by now.”
It is bad enough that well-meaning, well intentioned friends attack us with killer clichés, but then we start picking on ourselves. We start believing that we are defective or somehow deficient because we haven’t recovered yet.
If we take just the two killer clichés we’ve mentioned so far, we can see that they have something in common. They both imply that a non-action will have some therapeutic or recovery value. That by waiting, and letting some time pass, we will heal. Let’s add a third cliché to the batch, “you have to keep busy.” Many grievers follow this incorrect advice and work two or three jobs. They fill their time with endless tasks and chores. At the end of any given day, asked how they feel, invariably they report that their heart still feels broken; that all they accomplished by staying busy was to get exhausted.
Now, with only three basic killer clichés we can severely limit and restrict our ability to participate in effective recovery. It is not only that people around us tell us these clichés, in an attempt to help, but we ourselves learned and practiced these false beliefs for most of our lives. It is time for us to learn some new and helpful beliefs to assist us in grieving and completing relationships that have ended or changed.
QUESTION: I have heard that it takes 2 years to “get over” the death of a loved one; 5 years to “get over” the death of a parent; and you never “get over” the death of a child.
Is this true?
ANSWER: Part of the problem is the phrase “get over.” It is more accurate to say that you would never forget a child who had died, anymore than you would ever forget a parent or a loved one. Another part of the problem is one of those killer clichés we talked about, that time, of itself, is a recovery action. Although recovery from loss does take some time, it is the actions within time that lead to successful recovery.
The primary goal of Grief Recovery® is to help you “grieve and complete” relationships that have ended or changed. Successful Grief Recovery® allows you to have fond memories not turn painful and helps you retake a happy and productive place in your own life. In addition, you regain the ability to begin new relationships, rather than attempting to replace or avoid past relationships.