Clinical psychologist Dr. Joseph Nowinski on allowing yourself to feel sad when confronted with death. Dr. Nowinski is the co-author with Dr. Barbara Okun of Saying Goodbye: How Families Can Find Renewal Through Loss.To Read Dr. Okun’s Piece on Talking to Your Kids About Feeling Good About Osama bin Laden’s Death, Click Here.
Surely the news that Osama bin Laden was found and dispatched by U.S. Special Forces and the C.I.A. is cause for our nation to celebrate. The fact that bin Laden was able to survive and annoy us with occasional arrogant news releases prevented our collective pain from healing. Bin Laden’s death may make little operational difference to Al Qaeda, but it has enormous psychological meaning to all who value freedom and human life. It brings a degree of closure to the long and frustrating hunt that began with President Bush’s statement that American wanted bin Laden “dead or alive.” So it is understandable why we see pictures of people celebrating in New York, Washington D.C., and elsewhere.
Yet not everyone will be able to celebrate. As Peter Gadiel, whose son James died in the World Trade Towers on September 11, 2001 says, bin Laden’s death will not bring his son back. For Peter—and perhaps for many others who lost loved ones or friends on that awful day—there can be no closure. And that is okay. In fact, it’s fine.
As psychologists Dr. Barbara Okun and I have interviewed hundreds of individuals and families who have had to cope with the sudden loss of a loved one, as well as those who find themselves confronted by what we call “the new grief” that is generated by having to cope with a protracted terminal illness. One thing we have learned from all of these people is that grief does not end. There is no final “acceptance” no final “closure.” In fact, the more significant our relationship is with a dead or dying loved one, the more we can expect to have to live with grief for years, if not a lifetime.
Grief does not disappear; rather, it waxes and wanes. Grief does not have to cripple us, however; nor does it necessarily mean that we cannot be happy or lead productive lives. The truth is that grief is more likely to disrupt our lives if we try to bury or ignore it. To those who find themselves feeling not joy, but sadness at the news of Bin Laden’s death we say, “Let your grief wash over you. Don’t try to run from it or fight it. Cry if you want to. Shout out in pain if you want to.” If you think about it, it makes sense that the news this week can evoke grief, just as the anniversary of the death of a loved one, or their birthday, can evoke it. Our capacity to grieve, just like our capacity to feel joy, is hard-wired into our human DNA. If you allow yourself to feel your sadness, chances are that when that grief has run its course and wanes you will find yourself open to feeling joy.
More on Loss and Grieving:
- Osama bin Laden: How Do You Justify Feeling Good About Killing Someone?
- Osama Bin Laden Was Killed. How Do YOU Feel? (POLL)
- Public Mourning: The Pros and Cons of First-Hand Accounts of Loss
- Talking to Children About Sickness and Death
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