Myth Six - Keep Busy

Over time, we have identified six major myths that are so universal, that nearly everyone can relate to having absorbed them early in life, although they can’t always explain what they mean and whether or not they are true or helpful.

The six myths are:

     •     Don’t Feel Bad

     •     Replace the Loss

     •     Grieve Alone

     •     Grief Just Takes Time

     •     Be Strong and Be Strong for Others

     •     Keep Busy

Last, but by no means least, on the list of myths is Keep Busy. Nearly every griever we’ve ever met has told us that well-meaning family and friends has given them the advice to keep busy in the aftermath of a loss.

Many people have nearly worked themselves into exhaustion trying to stay busy so they wouldn’t feel the pain that was the normal and natural by-product of the loss that affected them. We know the primary reason that the myth of keeping busy persists is because it is linked—almost like a satellite—to another major myth, that Grief Just Takes Time or  Time Heals All Wounds. That myth fuels the idea that keeping busy is a good thing to do. The basis for that dangerous combination of beliefs is the idea that if I keep busy today, then another day will have gone by, which allows the myth of Time Healing to make the pain go away. Of course that is totally incorrect, as the longer you wait to address the emotions connected to your loss, the more difficult it is to access those feelings. They get tucked away, buried out of sight, but still affecting you even if you’re not consciously aware of what’s going on under the surface. It’s bad enough that the idea of keeping busy is so inextricably tied to the false idea that the passage of  time can heal anything, but it’s magnified by connection to one of the other myths – the first one, Don’t Feel Bad. Again, if we think we’re not supposed to feel bad—even though feeling bad or sad is the normal reaction to loss of any kind—then keeping busy is another way of trying to bypass the normal feelings of sadness and pain associated with loss. Here’s another aspect to consider. Some people are busy types, others aren’t. Grief throws off all of our rhythms and patterns. If you give the advice to keep busy to someone who’s not naturally that kind of person, you will have taken them even further out of their own style. With as much change as is produced by the grief event itself, we recommend trying to keep from changing too many other things.

Russell Friedman and John W. James are co-founders of the

Grief Recovery Institute and creators of The Grief Recovery Method.