Jewish World Review March 19, 2004 / 26 Adar, 5764
Russell P. Friedman
Reduced to Joy?
"Wait a minute, don't you mean 'reduced to tears'?"
No, we mean exactly what we said. We are making a point. There are hordes of expressions that swirl around the twin topics of grief and recovery. Unfortunately, many of them are not helpful when we find ourselves stuck in the middle of grieving situations.
We have been socialized to believe that sadness, which is the normal response to sad news or sad memories, is somehow a reduction rather than an appropriate response.
Several years ago the Republican National Convention was held in San Diego. One of the keynote speakers was former First Lady, Nancy Reagan. By that point in time, President Reagan was already under the impact of full-blown Alzheimer's disease. As Mrs. Reagan spoke, she cried, openly and honestly. What a perfect representation of emotional truth, for all the world to see. That's what we thought.
But not so, thought the Los Angeles Times. On August 12, 1996, the Los Angeles Times ran a headline stating - Nancy Reagan loses composure in a tribute to her ailing husband.
Why do we know about this? Because on August 13, 1996, we wrote a letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times. Here is a copy of that letter:
We have been interviewed and quoted many times in the Los Angeles Times View and Life Style sections as experts on the topic of grief and recovery. Our constant refrain is that "grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss."We signed the letter as the principals of The Grief Recovery Institute. Of course, you're wondering if the Times ever published the letter. Bet you won't be surprised to find out they didn't.
Recently we wrote about the travesty caused by the depiction of Jackie Kennedy standing with her children, without apparent emotion, as JFK's funeral procession passed by. We highlighted the fact that the television commentators kept repeating the phrase, "Isn't she strong," as if her non-display of emotion was virtuous. It set up the idea and the ideal that being "strong" and not showing emotions was a good thing.
That was in 1963. Thirty three years later, in 1996, another First Lady showed her emotions and was castigated for it.
As a society we pride ourselves on our progress, but when it comes to grief and the honest emotions connected to loss, we often seem to be going in the wrong direction.
03/12/04: Emotional Root Canal