GriefSpeak: The Emperor’s New Clothes

By: Mari Dias

We are living in a world fraught with a minefield of words. It’s almost impossible to avoid them, but I will try, as I zigzag through the mire of nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Although I prefer to be mute today, I will rally – as I never want to be compared to the emperor who has new clothes. Some of the words I choose to use are potentially explosive, but hopefully, within the context of grief and loss they are palatable.

The world is grieving. Everyone is experiencing one or more losses, and anger seems to be the popular response. Not necessarily effective, just popular. Anger is a comfortable, usually acceptable, recognizable emotion. Anger is easy.

As a professor of clinical mental health counseling, I am acutely aware (and encourage my students to be equally so) of subtexts. Anger can be like a Potemkin village, a façade that masks the truth – the masking and hiding of the true emotion, the one that makes us feel vulnerable and afraid.

Fear, hurt, rejection, powerlessness is all too often masked as anger, is also part of loss. We are scared because our world is different, and thus we feel the need to reevaluate our self-schema and worldview. Change is equally as scary for many. The perceived erosion of the symbols of our past, the questioning of our traditional cultural norms and values, the feeling of being deprived of voicing our own truth, are all reasons for fear. We are fearful of telling the emperor he has no clothes on, fearful to criticize or react to what is happening in our world right now, because of the perceived wisdom of the masses. The masses, however, are shouting out loud and clear what they see, what they perceive as their truth. Understandable.

The current situation may be analogous to the old children’s game of Red Rover. “Red Rover, Red Rover, send you right over.” As our name is called, we run as fast and as hard as we can to break the connection of hands of the opposing team. Loss, anger, and fear are running hard and fast to break the connection as well. But what if the connection is the goal? Not we. Not them. But us?

This effort may seem futile, but what we do have is our ability to express ourselves. Right now. Despite our views we need to go beyond the anger and recognize what it is. Hear the subtext. Perhaps fear of loss. But let us, all of us, speak our truths like the little boy who disclosed what everyone was thinking – “the emperor has no clothes”.

Be the little child. Do not be afraid. But do it peacefully, mercifully, respectfully and with grace. There is room for all of us.

Dr. Mari Dias is a nationally board-certified counselor, holds a Fellow in Thanatology and is certified in both grief counseling and complicated grief.

She is Professor of Clinical Mental Health, Master of Science program, Johnson & Wales University. Dias is the director of GracePointe Grief Center, in North Kingstown, RI.  For more information, go to: