Grief Recovery Institute® Guidance Center
John W. James
Founder of The Grief Recovery Institute®
Co-Author of The Grief Recovery
Handbook & When Children Grieve
Co-Author of The Grief Recovery
Handbook & When Children Grieve
Where were you when I needed you?
The saddest question we ever hear is, "Where were you when I needed you?"
That's what people ask when they find out what we do in helping grievers. We're presenting helpful and accurate information on this site, at the time you need it most, with the hope that you'll never need to ask that question.
It's an honor and a sad privilege to be addressing you, knowing that each of you has recently experienced the death of someone important to you. We also know some of you are reading this because of your care and concern for someone who is confronted by the death of someone important in their life.
We bring our personal experience in dealing with the deaths of people who were important to us, and our professional know-how in helping grievers for more than 30 years. We'll help you distinguish between the "raw grief" that is your normal and natural reaction to the death, and the equally normal "unresolved grief" that relates to the unfinished emotions that are part of the physical ending of all relationships.
A basic reality for most grieving people is difficulty concentrating or focusing. With that in mind, we asked Tributes.com to print our articles in a large type font to make them easier to read. Sharing our concern for grieving people, they agreed.
From our hearts to yours,
John & Russell
Articles & Media
Why Won’t Anyone Let Me Feel Sad?
If we were forced to quantify the problems grieving people encounter, there’s no doubt the number one offense they must confront is being told that they shouldn’t feel sad or bad. The tragedy is that they are told this at the precise time when it makes the most sense to feel sad or bad—when someone important to them has died.
Although we don’t like to be sarcastic, we must ask, “If you can’t feel sad in reaction to a death, then when can you ever feel sad?”
A typical lament from a broken hearted griever is, “I am having a very difficult time. Everyone keeps telling me not to feel bad or sad and giving me all kinds of reasons that don’t make sense to me. They say, ‘Don’t feel bad, she’s in a better place.’ Since my wife had struggled so long and so valiantly with the cancer that took her from me, I do hope she’s in a better place. “But I’m not in a better place! I’m sad, I miss her terribly, and I’m confused when people tell me not to feel bad. I just want to avoid those people. Is there something wrong with me?”
Hopefully our answer will comfort you: No, there’s nothing wrong with you – you’re actually the emotionally healthy one in the scenario. You are trying to tell the truth about how you feel, only to have others tell you that you shouldn’t be feeling what you’re feeling. The death of your wife is the dominating event in your life. But the absence of comfort that would be provided if the people around you listened to you effectively rather than making you think there’s something wrong with you distracts you from your primary task of dealing with her death.
It All Starts With What We Learned When We Were Young
Being told not to feel bad is always followed by a reason that makes no sense relative to how the griever feels — things like “she’s in a better place” or “at least her suffering is over.” Those explanations are about the person who died, not about the grieving person. Even if the griever agrees with those ideas and sentiments, the comments don’t address what the griever is feeling.
It may help you to understand why everyone is so dedicated to telling you not to feel bad. As you read this, you may be surprised to learn that all of us were taught not to feel bad from as far back as we can remember. The reason that we use it with others is that it was used on us. Therefore we believe it to be truthful, though it is anything but truthful.
Here is an example of how a child’s normal response to a painful event is converted into a lifelong incorrect philosophy for dealing with sad emotions: A five-year-old girl has had an emotionally painful experience at school. The other children have been mean to her. She goes home to Mom, Dad, or Grandma, and spills out her tale of woe, with tears. This healthy, normal expression and display of human emotion is met with, “Don’t feel bad. Have a cookie, you’ll feel better.” Those two sentences can create a life-long belief that that we deal with sad feelings by eating. The child has honestly presented an emotion, a sad feeling, to someone she trusts. The emotion is immediately dismissed with, “Don’t feel bad,” and then anesthetized with food. The fact is that when you load a little body up with food or sugar, something will change. The child feels different, but not better. No one has listened to or addressed her present issue, which was her feelings, not hunger.
Sweet But Dangerous For Adults Too
The fact that the people who love us do not want us to feel bad is a sweet sentiment, but a dangerous one. Children feel what they feel whether others approve or not. If the people around a child do not understand that sad, painful, or negative feelings are normal and natural reactions to hurtful events, then the child will just go underground and hide her feelings. Children will begin to ACT FINE, because that action is rewarded. “Isn’t she brave?” Or, “Isn’t he strong?” are the comments children hear when they cover up and bury their sad feelings after a loss.
What is true for children is also true for adults. We all started out learning the rules when we were young. When we get older we reach back into our storehouse of information and come out with things like “Don’t feel bad.” We even apply that idea to ourselves when we feel bad, without others saying it to us.
The problem is that we never asked the question, “Why not? Why is it not acceptable to communicate openly and honestly when I have sad feelings in reaction to grief-producing events?” As a griever, the healthiest thing you can do is tell the truth about how you feel in any given moment. As a person who is talking to a griever, the healthiest thing you can do is listen without judgment or criticism of feelings, and never give the illogical advice that your friend shouldn’t feel sad or bad.
© 2013 Russell P. Friedman, John W. James and The Grief Recovery Institute®. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this and other articles please contact The Grief Recovery Institute at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone, 800-334-7606.
The Boston Marathon Bombing, The Aftermath: Loss of Life, Loss of Safety, Loss of Trust, and Loss of Innocence
April 15, 2013, the date of the Boston Marathon bombing, joins the list of dates we’d rather not remember, but we can’t forget. It takes its sad Read More »
Post-Holiday, Grief-Related Blues!
Logically, for many grieving people, the holidays are difficult enough, especially the first season after someone important to them has died. But Read More »
Not following impulses leads to unfinished emotional business—aka Unresolved Grief!
Today I feel compelled to write about a personal loss, that just happens to be one of the national obituaries currently featured on the home page of Read More »
Newtown, Connecticut—Our Grief, Because We Are The Family Of Humankind
Certain events have the power to propel us into an emotional numbness, as if a hidden thermostat inside our hearts shuts us off. The pain is too much Read More »
Veterans Day—Lest We Forget
In its day, World War One was called "The War to End All Wars." Sadly, it wasn't. WW I officially ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day Read More »
Dealing with Grief During the Holidays
Dealing with Grief During the Holidays While there are other critical dates and times that affect grieving people, the holiday season is the biggest Read More »
We Never Forget The Important People In Our Lives.
We recently received a note from a woman named Linda, who had a child die, and who interacts with other parents who’ve also experienced the death Read More »
On Crying—Part Two
In Crying—Part One, we focused on the idea that it can be dangerous and counterproductive to attach our personal ideas and beliefs to how other Read More »
On Crying—Part One
Almost everyone has some questions and confusion about crying. How much crying is enough? If I start crying, will I be able to stop? Do I have to Read More »
9/11: The Aftermath, Loss of Life, Loss of Safety, Loss of Trust, and Loss of Innocence
By Russell FriedmanSeptember 11, 2001 now lives in our language in the same emotional way as December 7, 1941 and November 22, 1963. Nearly everyone Read More »
Am I Going Crazy?—An all-too frequent question from grievers.
“Since my mother’s death, I’ve had the experience of being in one room, deciding to go to another room to do something, and when I get there, I Read More »
Father’s Day 2013 - My Dad, Babe Ruth, and the Ball That’s Still in Orbit
In the kind of emotional reviews our minds and hearts make on chronicling days like Father’s Day, we often discover a level of appreciation that Read More »
What a Difference a Day Makes—Lest We Forget!
Memorial Day as we know it today began as Decoration Day in 1866, in upstate New York, after the cessation of the Civil War. First conceived as an Read More »
Mother’s Day! Remind Me—Remind Me Not—Remind Me
In mid-April there are two things you can count on in the United States. One is the due date for filing your tax return. The other is the arrival of Read More »
BECAUSE WE ARE THE FAMILY OF HUMANKIND
BECAUSE WE ARE THE FAMILY OF HUMANKIND [March 11, 2011]At 11:15 PM on March 10th, 2011, my heart was burning and my stomach was churning. I was Read More »
Am I Paranoid, Or Are People Really Avoiding Me?
The simple answer to the question posed in the title of this article is, “No, you’re not paranoid, people really may be avoiding you.” Even Read More »
Valentine’s Day—For Many, The Most Painful Holiday
The traditional Holiday Season begins around Halloween, continues through Thanksgiving, crests with Christmas and Hanukkah, and ends with New Read More »
Our Reaction to The Tucson Tragedy – Because We Are the Family of Humankind!
Within a two year span, from February 1, 2003 to December 26, 2004, we used the title “Because We Are the Family of Humankind!” for articles we Read More »
Uh-oh, it’s that time again. Grief and the holidays
Many Grievers Wish They Could Skip The Holidays And Jump From Late October To Mid-January The holidays are approaching. A joyous time. A festive time Read More »
Stages of Grief: Are There Actual Stages Of Grief?
Is there any truth behind the idea that grief and loss recovery comes in stages?We are often asked if there are actual stages of grief or grieving. Read More »
Is It Ever Too Soon To Recover?
Conflicting opinions from a wide variety of sources confuse the question of when to begin a process of completing what was left emotionally Read More »
Why Won’t Anyone Let Me Feel Sad?
If we were forced to quantify the problems grieving people encounter, there’s no doubt the number one offense they must confront is being told that Read More »
Six Major Myths – The Short Version
There are six major myths about grief that are so close to universal that nearly everyone can relate to them. This is true not only for those of us Read More »
Do I Have to Cry To Grieve?
"My father died recently. I have been very sad, but I have not cried. Do I have to cry to grieve?"That is a question we get all the time from people Read More »
When Your Heart Is Broken, Your Head Doesn’t Work Right And Your Spirit May Not Soar
For most people, the immediate response to the death of someone important to them is a sense of numbness. After that initial numbness wears off, the Read More »
If I Start Crying Will I Be Able To Stop?
Grieving people sometimes hold back their tears based on the fear that if they start crying, they won’t be able to stop. To the best of our Read More »
Time Doesn't Heal - Actions Do
I have heard that it takes two years to get over the death of a loved one, five years to get over the death of a parent, and you never get over the Read More »
I’m Fine And Other Lies!!!
Approximately 20% of your ability to communicate is verbal, leaving about 80% as non-verbal. Non-verbal communication includes tone of voice as well Read More »
Normal and Natural reactions to the death of someone important to you.
Grief is the wide range of normal and natural reactions to the death of someone important to you. The seven most common reactions are: Read More »
If you or someone important to you wants help with grief: Look for a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist℠ in your community. The Grief Recovery Institute ® trains and mentors Certified Grief Recovery Specialists℠ throughout the United States & Canada.
Workshops & Training Schedule
The Grief Recovery Institute ® offers Certification Training programs for those who wish to help grievers.
June 2013Calgary, AB - June 21 - 24, 2013
St. Louis, MO - June 21 - 24, 2013
July 2013Oklahoma City, OK - July 12 - 15, 2013
Palm Springs, CA - July 12 - 15, 2013
Los Angeles, CA - July 26 - 29, 2013
Moncton, NB - July 26 - 29, 2013
Atlanta, GA - July 26 - 29, 2013
Chicago, IL - July 26 - 29, 2013