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Grief, American Style

Dealing With Loss

It's Not a Thinking Thing

What these six myths and the countless variations on them have in common is an attempt to intellectualize something that is sheer emotion. For example, says Friedman, "the idea of 'not letting them get us' is an intellectual construct." And while it may have helped galvanize our country in the aftermath of the attacks, for those who lost loved ones, it is nearly meaningless.


"Osama bin Laden won't be in their houses to see how they feel," says Friedman. "And feeling bad doesn't mean the bad guys won. The intellectual, political, philosophical notion of 'not letting the bad guys win' has nothing to do with [personal] grief."


For many, especially those who've lost someone to violence, accident, or disease, a key to moving on is "shifting off of the cause and onto the fact that the loved one is gone," says Friedman. "The fact that someone dies is an important emotional event. How they die is intellectual. People tend to become angry at, and focus on, the cancer, or Timothy McVeigh, or the terrorists, rather than focusing on the person who has died." But this merely prolongs and perpetuates the pain, he says.


For healing to occur, "you have to look at your beliefs and question them. If you believe time will heal, you'll take no action, and you won't heal," says Friedman. And the most important action, he says, "is getting back to the essential issue of your relationship to the person who is dead or lost to you. You need to look at what you remember about that person -- good, bad, or otherwise, and address the things that have emotional importance to you, whatever is emotionally unfinished."


Then what? Will you stop missing your loved one, or maybe even forget them?


Of course not, says Friedman. "An honest assessment of your relationship ... allows you to move on. Seeing and addressing what issues remain unresolved, allows you to have fond memories, rather than pain. Getting emotionally complete doesn't mean you'll never be sad again, but there's a difference between sadness and pain," he says. "And that's an important distinction."


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