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
"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
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