We are outwardly saddened by the death of Robin Williams. We've seen this before with icons like JFK and JFK Jr., Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Whitney Houston.
Why do we grieve so much for someone we've never met?
As someone who has been in the field of grief for decades, the answer is simple. Grief is a reflection of a connection that has been lost. We grieve those we love. We grieve those will like. We even grieve those we've never met. All you need to feel is a connection to feel grief.
Just about all of us felt a connection Robin Williams. That's why we grieve.
The collective experience gives us comfort. Since the beginning of time, we have been wired to grieve as a community. It makes us feel less alone.
We clearly know how to do public grief. It's acceptable to talk about it at work, at the grocery store and at parties.
So why are we so uncomfortable revealing our private grief?
People often tell me they felt unable to grieve for their loved ones in public. They had to immediately "move on" or "get over" their loved ones dying -- as if they have a common cold.
Why do we have a double standard for our most personal losses?
Perhaps because our society often confuses sadness with a weakness and crying with inadequacy. In public grief, the sense of community makes the sadness and tears socially acceptable.
Not so in our personal losses. Many times we feel forced to become little islands of grief. We are not sure what we feel and if we feel it's right to feel at all. There is no permission to explore or express our emotions.
Let's learn how to apply our healthy expression of public grief to our most personal losses. Here are three ideas to consider when you suffer a loss:
1. Honor your own private grief. It's even more important than public grief. Only you know the depth of your sadness.
2. Seek out friends, family and community that allows you to mourn. Surround yourself with people who are compassionate.
3. State your needs. The reality is that grief makes most people very uncomfortable and some will go to great lengths to avoid it. But, most people do want to help and they just don't know how. Don't worry about imposing. Tell the people in your life how they can serve you.
Public grief is a powerful growth opportunity to enhance our own life. Grief is awful no matter what, but it's a part of life. Let's learn to do it better for ourselves and for the people we love. It's a little known key to peace and happiness.