This weeklong series offer secular parents some practical advice on handling death, and talks about death, with young children without relying on (or resorting to) religious imagery. Here’s Part Five:
I’ve talked before about Russell Friedman, co-founder of the Grief Recovery Institute in Sherman Oaks (CA) — and I really like what they guy has to say. Friedman spent nearly three decades counseling people in the midst of grief, and he talks a lot about the commonly held myth that it is both good and helpful to comfort grieving people.
To be sure, the desire to comfort our children is what makes so many parents feel compelled to tell their kids about heaven, right? Heaven seems to take the edge off of death. Heaven gives them an alternative reality. Heaven makes them a little less, well, sad.
But trying to make something that is terribly sad into something “not so sad” is no help at all, says Friedman. Sadness, he says, is such a healthy emotion at times of devastating loss. It’s completely appropriate. And trying to remove the sadness when someone is grieving is unhelpful, inappropriate and unhealthy.
To make his point, Friedman pointed to the emotion of happiness. Would we ever tell a loved one that they ought to feel less happy about a job offer because they might lose that job some day? Would we tell someone to not feel so good about their engagement because 50 percent of marriages end in divorce?