Jewish World Review March 12, 2004 / 19 Adar, 5764

Russell P. Friedman

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Consumer Reports

Emotional Root Canal | Sometimes finding tears to accompany feelings of sadness is like pulling teeth.

Over the years, many people have approached us with the lament that they have been unable to cry in response to the death of a loved one.

We must first help them understand that it is not that rare or uncommon. Then we help them remove any self-judgments they have about their inability to cry.

That done, we must go back to basics. From as far back as most of us can remember, we have been taught to associate feeling bad with being bad. As if somehow our sadness, and the outward display of it, suggests that we are deficient and not big enough or strong enough to interact with others. From that idea comes the "isolation" that so many grieving people experience.

It's not as simple as what we were taught either directly or indirectly when we were young. We are also exposed to constant reinforcement in the media. The classic example occurred in the aftermath of the death of JFK. Those of you who were old enough to witness the televised funeral, will remember the image of Jackie Kennedy, standing stock-still, without the appearance of emotion of any kind. That itself is not remarkable. After all, it would be reasonable to assume that she was in some kind of shock, or at least massively numbed by the events that caused her to be standing there in front of the world. In reality, reports indicate that she was heavily medicated, which accounts for any absence of emotional expression.

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The problem wasn't so much the image of Jackie as she stood there with little John-John. It was the commentary of the announcers who said, "Isn't she strong?" The implication of those comments to a nation — and a world — was that "strong" is the appropriate response to grief. As a society we are still negatively impacted by that phrase.

In those few moments of time, a shroud was thrown over normal grief and grieving.

At the Grief Recovery Institute we have spent the past 25 years helping people out from under the idea that strong trumps human.

We believe that being human and naturally emotional is strong, not the other way around.

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Russell P. Friedman is Executive Director of The Grief Recovery Institute Educational Foundation in Sherman Oaks, California [ ], and co-author of "The Grief Recovery Handbook & "When Children Grieve. Comment by clicking here.


03/05/04: Where in the h-ll has civility gone?
02/13/04: The Heart Has a Mind of Its Own
12/31/03: Grief is Not a Partisan Issue: The Year in Review from a Different Point of View
11/11/03: Tuesday Morning at Eleven
10/30/03: Raging Fires --- Broken Hearts

© 2003, Russell P. Friedman