Myths About Grief

1. "Grief has stages that a person must go through to heal."

The five stages of grief- denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance- come from the observations and interactions of dying patients by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, MD [1969] which were documented in her book “On Death and Dying.” There are common experiences that grieving persons have, but these thoughts and feelings are not linear stages that one gets through to complete grieving.


2. "It is better for children not to attend a funeral."

Children should be given a choice to attend a funeral once they are given an explanation regarding what to expect. They should also have the option to have a hand in planning or memorializing the person and be allowed to participate in the service, should they so choose.


3. "It is healthy to resume your life after the death of a loved one."

Grieving is an individual process so some people may feel better resuming their normal routine of work but others may not. There is not a right way to grieve; however attempting to “get over” your loss by avoiding your feelings can slow the healing process.


4. "An active child who plays is well adjusted to the loss of their loved one and is no longer grieving."

Children are not able to sustain the heavy emotional burden of grief for long periods of time as adults are. It is normal for children to be sad or angry one moment and laughing a playing the next.


5."The grief of adults does not affect a child(ren) that is(are) grieving."

Children are naturally intuitive. They are aware when something is wrong which can lead them to feel unsafe. Many grieving adults may be unable to maintain a routine or reassure a child that everything will be ok when they are not sure of that themselves. It is important to talk to a child about grief and encourage them to express themselves.)


6. "Adults should grieve privately and not discuss the person who has died."

Although grieving in private is appropriate, so is grieving with others. Support groups can validate a survivor’s feelings, offer comfort and help with loneliness. Discussing the person who died with other family, children or friends can encourage their healing as well as normalize your feelings. Grieving openly is also important for modeling to children “appropriate” ways to grieve.

General View of Death throughout Development

Preschool (toddlers)

Understand specific concrete information

View death as reversible and not final (i.e., “heaven” is a place, therefore, a person can go and come back)

Are unable to conceptualize what “death” and “die” truly mean

Question the concept of death (i.e., what is dead, what makes people die, where do they go when they die, visiting a dead person, how do dead people eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom).

Challenge the concept of “forever”

Believe that if they are careful, it will not happen to them

Ages 5-9

Believe that death is a person, spirit, bogeyman, or ghost

Enjoy ghost stories but would never go into a cemetery at night because it would be too scary.

Think death is real but only happens to old people

Tend to grieve in spurts, as they are unable to sustain the heavy emotional burden of grief (sad and crying one minute and laughing and playing the next)

Ages 9-12

Believe that death is an end to bodily life, is final, and can happen to all people (even children)

Know and understand causes of death; illness, old age, accidents, murder and suicide

Have nightmares about their parents dying and when grieving will fear who will die next and question when they will die


Romanticize and dramatize death, as in literature , music, films or movies.

Fantasize about their own death and funeral

Challenge death by participating in dare-devil activities such as drag racing or drug experimentation

Don’t really believe it will happen to them or someone they love


Most tend to avoid the topics of death and dying

Most are uncomfortable discussing illness and death

Most respond to others who are grieving in ways that they feel will be helpful but usually involve “getting over” grief or saying things that actually make themselves feel better (i.e., “they are in a better place,” “they are no longer suffering,” “you are young, you can have another baby”)

Many may go through a “midlife crisis” when they experience a death or the terminal illness of someone they love


Taken, with permission, from "HopeWest Kids"