Have you noticed the attention the media give to public figures suffering through terminal illness and grief? Most recently, activist Sargent Shriver and attorney Elizabeth Edwards have been in the news. And before them, there were celebrities Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon.
As these public figures faced the paparazzi, they became role models as they witnessed to us their personal struggles with deteriorating health. In return, we have all been touched on a deep and cellular level. For some of us, it became a topic of conversation at the water cooler, in our car pool or at the dinner table.
But why are some of us so moved by well known personalities who show us this side of their lives? You would think we would shy away from hearing such news. And you would think that this would destroy the myth that to publicly express grief is taboo. Does someone outwardly expressing their pain intrigue us, hold our attention, distract us and make us listen? Why? What are we supposed to learn from this public display of grief?
Maybe you have experienced this personally. Have you ever shared personal grief or sorrow with a group? What was their reaction to your news? Were they supportive, engaged and involved like we have been with the celebrities above? Did it open your eyes to something you did not expect?
It did one day for me.
When I shared my sadness with a few close friends at work that my 24-year marriage was ending, I was not surprised by their genuine concern. What followed did take me back. Several people took me aside that same day to tell me their private moments of sorrow. I thought: Did confessing my sadness make it acceptable for others to do the same? Was it now “safe” for them to go public with their own grief? Why did sharing my grief lead others to share theirs?
I’m reminded of a video I saw last year. Someone recorded a group of people enjoying a beautiful, sunny day in a park. Suddenly a man stood up and with no music playing, started to dance. He was uninhibited with his arms waving in the air above his head, freely jumping and moving his body in one spot. Dozens looked on with laughter and disbelief. After a few moments, he was joined by another gentleman. The first man welcomed his new friend into his world of freedom and expression.
Another moment went by and a woman became part of this serendipity moment. Before long, others joined until there were 3 dozen strangers clustered around the first man doing this “happy dance.” In the end, only a few sat quietly and watched.
The first man led others out of their perceptions of acceptable park-like behavior. People experienced another view of truth and freedom.
In the same way, do public figures lead us out of our perceptions of acceptable grief-like behavior? Do we experience another view of truth and freedom?
As we asked earlier, what do we learn from outward expressions of grief? Could it be that it is necessary for people to share their grief because truth is, it relieves them of carrying their pain alone? And are we there in their last moments of need and life because truth is, it’s our duty to be of service for others during their time of helplessness and maybe hopelessness? Are we being taught so we can teach if it’s our turn to deal with and share our own sorrow and grief with others?
From these questions, are we reminded that publicly displaying sadness, pain and grief quietly offers all of us benefits? Instead of being alone, frightened, helpless, there is community, faith, freedom? And if that’s the question, then the answer must be: The truth does set us free!
Fear knocks at the door…faith opens the door. Nothing is there! Except people who will listen, support, care and learn!
Tony Falzano 2011