Jewish World Review April 16, 2004 / 26 Nissan, 5764

Russell P. Friedman

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Consumer Reports

‘Just the Feelings, Ma'am’ | No, the title is not a misprint, it's just the Grief Recovery variation on that famous Jack Webb line from Dragnet.

We've spent the better part of the last 25 years helping people move about 14 inches from their heads to their hearts. We have written of the six major myths that we believe limit people in making that shift. We have lectured, we have pontificated, we have preached. We have even resorted to begging and pleading in an attempt to get folks to see the error of their ways, at least as it relates to using their heads rather than their hearts to deal with their emotional responses to loss.

All along we thought the six major myths were the cause of the problem. In case you don't recall them here are those myths:

  • Don't Feel Bad

  • Replace the Loss

  • Grieve Alone

  • Time Heals All Wounds

  • Be Strong — Be Strong for Others

  • Keep Busy

Each of those mythological ideas, which have been passed from generation to generation, limit and restrict people's ability to deal effectively with their normal and natural reactions to the death of a loved one, to divorce, or to any of the 40 other loss events that cause feelings of grief.

Lo and behold, it now appears that those myths, as pernicious as they seem, may not be at the root of the problem. It may just be, that as a nation, we were lured into Webb's web. We may have bought the phrase, "Just the Facts, Ma'am," as gospel.

Maybe we've been fighting an uphill battle with the wrong weapons. Maybe we need our own TV series to counterbalance the long term impact of that famous line.

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I can see it now. John W. James, Grief Recovery Founder Man, strides purposefully yet gently to the side of the new weeping widow. Though an ex-Marine, John speaks softly and with great compassion. He prompts her to "talk while you cry," and to tell him about her relationship with her husband who has just died. At one point, John asks her if she can remember the first time she ever saw the man who was to become her husband. Her face lights up through her tears as her mind's eye casts back 16 years to the exact moment she first saw him in the bowling alley. It is a sweet moment. "Just the Feelings, Ma'am."

Meantime, in another room, in the same house, Russell P. Friedman, Sidekick Man, is talking to the 12 year old girl and 9 year old boy whose lives have been torn asunder by the sudden death of their dad. The kids are a little more reticent at first, unwilling to just start talking about how they feel. Russell tells them about his reaction to the news of his own mom's sudden death many years ago. Released from fear by Russell's willingness to go first, the kids start to talk. Soon Russell has them each talking about their unique relationship with dad and the emotions they attach to the events they remember. "Just the Feelings, Kids."

Sometimes we are unaware of or we underestimate the power of written, spoken, or televised words and images; and just how much they to affect our lives and the lives of our children. It is important to distinguish entertainment and poetry from emotional reality. Sometimes the line may seem fuzzy to you. When in doubt, follow the heart line not the story line.

"Just the Feelings, Folks, Just the Feelings."

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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.


03/19/04: Reduced to Joy?
03/12/04: Emotional Root Canal
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