Call to Action
Join the movement! Here's how:
1. Advocate that grief is not a mental disorder; our social and cultural context impacts how we grieve. We are impacted by the people in our lives and the world in which we live. As you listen to or read about how grief is an individual experience (i.e., grief happens in isolation of the world around us), question the narrative of “mental disorders” and consider all the factors that can contribute to how a person responds to the death of someone in their lives.
2. Consider the language you use and how it can impact people. The language we use to describe people and experiences shapes how we view and respond to them. When it comes to grief and grieving, we have the potential to be helpful or harmful. People who are grieving often receive patronizing responses to “move on” or “find closure” when what they need most is to feel understood.
3. Educate others about being grief-informed. Share the 10 core principles of being grief-informed with your friends, family, coworkers, and others who want to know how to support people who are grieving. If or when you notice someone is misinformed or misrepresenting grief, respond! For example, if you don’t agree with what is portrayed in the news or media, write a letter to the editor, contact a reporter… weigh in with your opinion and experience.
4. Broaden the dialogue about the need for diversity and inclusivity in grief research and support. Many of the studies in the field of thanatology (the study of death, dying, bereavement, and loss) in the U.S. are based on studies of adults in “mainstream” culture, and have been used to represent the “standard” of how people grieve and how to support them. We need to reach beyond these limited and narrow perspectives to understand and support how grief is experienced by people of different beliefs, cultures, ethnicities, backgrounds, abilities, and experiences.
5. Challenge myths about grief. Grief doesn’t follow an orderly path of stages, tasks, or assignments to complete. When someone is grieving, don’t impose expectations on them about how they should feel or respond, or how long their grief should last. Every experience of loss is different and how people feel or respond to loss will be influenced by their relationship with the person who died, their beliefs, experience, social support, and many other factors.
6. Acknowledge and address the injustices of labels. Does yearning for someone who died mean that someone has a mental disorder (e.g., “Prolonged Grief Disorder”)? Rather than labeling people who are grieving with a mental disorder, or permitting others to label us, consider framing the challenges we face when we’re grieving as just that: challenges we experience when coping with the death of someone in our lives.
7. Recognize and acknowledge that every experience of loss is a unique experience. People will likely respond to the death of each person in their life differently because every relationship is unique. Let’s not assign people who are already struggling into preconceived and stereotypical boxes.
8. Strengthen relational connections. Our mainstream society values independence and, as such, the challenges experienced when grieving are often viewed as occurring “within the individual.” Unfortunately, this unrealistic position underestimates, and may even ignore, the value of interpersonal support when someone is grieving. We need connections with others who are understanding and compassionate, especially when difficult and painful things happen.
9. Honor lived experience. There are as many ways to grieve as there are people in the world, and there’s no “right way” or “wrong way.” It’s important to know how to support others, even when their lived experience and grieving responses differ from our own. When we place expectations and judgments on others because they are different from us, it can create barriers rather than relational connection and perceived support. To honor the lived experience of others involves offering the gift of nonjudgmental listening, open mindedness, and support.
10. Be compassionate with yourself and with others. Oscar Wilde famously stated that “only the shallow know themselves,” suggesting that there’s always more to learn about ourselves and others, no matter our age, education, or social status. One of the ways we can “walk our talk” is to demonstrate the same compassion toward ourselves that we hope others will have for themselves, particularly when we’re grieving.
Join this national call to action! Let us know what you and/or your organization are doing to raise national consciousness on being grief informed. We’d love to hear from you! On social media use #UnderstandGrief and tag us at @thedougycenter.