Russell Friedman

Russell Friedman

Broken Hearts

The FLAW in T.H.A.W.

Most dangerous of the incorrect ideas that keep grievers stuck.

Posted Jan 05, 2011

T.H.A.W. are the letters I doodled last week while talking on the phone with a well-intentioned, but misguided mental health professional. She was intoning the old, but always false idea that Time Heals All Wounds.

My silly brain conjured up the letters T.H.A.W., which I wrote down to remind me to address that issue with her later in the call—and eureka, another acronym was born.

John W. James and I have been helping grieving people for the past 33 years. Sometimes it feels like we're back at square one, trying to debunk the deeply engrained myths that surround grief and shroud the possibility of recovery from loss.

The myth that time can heal an emotional wound is possibly the most persistent and dangerous of the incorrect ideas that keep grievers stuck in pain.

Our favorite image to demonstrate the foolhardiness of time healing an emotional wound is to ask people to imagine that they arrive in the parking lot to discover their car has a flat tire. We then ask, "Would you pull up a chair, sit down, and wait for time to fix the flat tire?"

Everyone giggles at the image, as you probably did when you read it. The fact is that if we came back 100 years later, there your skeleton would be with whatever clothes you'd been wearing, and that tire would STILL be flat.

Time cannot and will not fix the flat tire. It takes actions to fix the flat. For most of us that action is to pick up our handy-dandy cell phone and call the Auto Club and ask them to send someone over to fix it. The hardier souls amongst us might root around in the trunk, find the little donut-sized spare tire, locate the jack and other tools, and hoist the car off the ground and change it themselves.

Either way, an action will have to be taken to get the car back on the road.

The parallel is this: An emotionally broken heart is amazingly like a flat tire. The get-up and go has got-up and gone. Energy is drained, exhausting the griever. The ability to participate fully in life is limited. And time can't and won't fix that broken heart any more than time can fix a flat tire.

It takes actions to discover and complete what is left emotionally incomplete as the result of the death of someone important to you; or a divorce; or any other loss event that produces feelings of grief.

For those who are struggling with the impact of unresolved grief, we want to help you start the year 2011 off on a different foot, with some better information and an action plan that will help you out of the pain caused by your losses.

As to finding such an action plan: Before this current frosty winter THAWs out, get thee to a bookstore or library and get a copy of The Grief Recovery Handbook. The sub-title is The Action Plan for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce, and Other Losses, including Health, Career, and Faith.

For those of you interested in helping grievers, get thee to our website,, and read about our Grief Recovery Certification Training Program.