For the fall issue of the Ohio Family Physician magazine, I wrote the following essay. The theme of the issue was the topic of Health Myths…….
When people typically hear the term “Health Myths” they typically think of things having to do with misinformation on the internet, misinformation about COVID-19, and other ideas. You probably have never thought about health myths following the end of someone’s life.
My father passed away during the tragic year of 2020, when many people died, masks were the norm, and a COVID vaccine was still unavailable. My father did not pass away from COVID infection, but for about nine months through that year, he suffered with the cancer diagnosis called glioblastoma, which for some is a rapidly growing brain tumor that eventually took his life.
Before he passed away, I was using all of my Family Physician skills to help my own family through this process. However, after he was gone, I felt as lost as we were all trying to process what happens now? There are a lot of myths when it comes to grieving, and I want to share three myths that I have experienced so I can help others through this mysterious process.
MYTH: Grief Happens In An Orderly Process
Close to the end of my father’s life, the family decided to place him on hospice services. To try to help myself and to help my family through this process, I reached for the book “On Death And Dying,“ by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. As Family Physicians, all of us have probably encountered this book at one point or another in our training. And all of us are familiar with the outlined stages of dying including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
However, through my arrogance, I thought that these were the same steps following death. I thought that these were the steps of grieving, which they are not. Grief does not happen in orderly stages. Grief is a convoluted and complicated process that is very personal and very individualized. Grief does not follow any kind of order.
MYTH: It Takes A Year To Get Over Your Grief
Even before my father passed away, people were telling me that the first year after his death would be the most difficult. Even I talk to patients and families about “the year of firsts.” This refers to the first birthday, the first holidays, the first wedding anniversary, etc. For a long time, I thought that the first 12 months, the first 365 days following the death of a loved one, would be the most difficult.
Unfortunately, this is a myth. Of course, those first holidays and memorable days are difficult, but those ones during the second year are no easier. And what I’m finding out in talking with people, is that sometimes it never gets better. Or, it is going to take more time before things start to ease in your mind.
MYTH: The Goal Of Grieving Is To Find Closure
For a long time, I did think in my head that if I was able to achieve this goal of “closure,“ whatever that means, then I would be able to get on with the rest of my life because in my research and reading, sometimes people just have to “get over it.“ Unfortunately, that is not the case.
The process of grieving is something that I deal with every day, and I will probably deal with for the rest of my life. Grieving is not a means to an end. Grieving is not a process that needs to be completed. Grieving does not have an endpoint for which you can tell people that you have completed the process. Grieving is every day, and it’s ok.
I hope this essay helps even one person through the grieving process. The process of grief is something that is not talked about in our society, for whatever reason. But as a Family Physician, I hope to create a space for my patients, my community, and for all of you to discuss and share openly and without judgment.