People never "get over" the death of a loved one. Sadness comes and goes, and that's natural. But they can, according to Russell Friedman of the Grief Recovery Institute, "complete" their grief. That is, they can grieve in a way that allows for happy memories to reign over painful ones. For life to overshadow death. Despite intermittent waves of sadness, people can recover from their grief and move on with their lives. But grief completion doesn't just happen, Friedman contends. People have to make it happen. Grief recovery, he says, requires that people be fully present and engaged in the memories of their loved ones. It requires that they experience the full breadth of their emotions without guilt or regret or judgment. And it requires that they share these emotions — and the memories that come with them — with other people.
Sounds simple, right?
It's not. Not for many of us anyway. Especially those who were brought up in households where "emotion" was something to be contained. And, let's face it, that's a lot of us.
How many times, for example, are children told to calm down when they become upset, or sent to their rooms to work out their feelings? How often do we get frustrated or angry with children for overreacting? How many of us have rushed out of a mall in embarrassment after our kid threw a tantrum? How many of us have asked (or demanded!) that our child stop crying?
Hey, I'm not saying we're bad parents for doing this stuff. We're humans. American humans at that. We were taught by example to stay strong, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, work through our problems on our own. And we've readily complied. Most of us would much rather cry into our pillows than burden others with our sadness.
But maybe it's time to stop the cycle. Maybe it's time we tell our kids it's okay to be mad or sad or worried or upset — and really mean it. Maybe it's time we stop judging the validity of their feelings and simply acknowledge them. Maybe it's time we stop expecting their anger or fear or sadness to "end" precisely when we've have enough of hearing it. And maybe it's time we encourage kids to be emotional in our company, rather than in their room. Instead of Go away to do that, maybe the message should be, Stay here or I'll come, too.
According to Friedman, we help our kids deal with the devastating losses they'll face in their lives (including our own deaths) simply by encouraging them to share their feelings with us.
So let's, you know, go ahead and do that.