Yesterday I had an interesting experience that prompted me to pen the reply below of what I would say to someone who is grieving, quite different from what James Van Praagh would say.

20/20 came to my home and office, then followed me to Occidental College to film me teaching. They did not care what I was lecturing on (this was just "B roll" footage), but I thought since the show was on James Van Praagh I would ask the students to respond to the question I always get about him: "what's the harm in what he does?" Well, they had plenty to say and had some good ideas, but one woman in the class told her story about how her Dad had died when she was 10 and that she has never gotten over it and that one doesn't really get over such a loss, one just learns to live with it, etc., and that the sort of thing that Van Praagh does is really deceptive and bad, and that it certainly wouldn't make her feel any better about her situation having some stranger tell her that he can talk to her Dad. And she got emotional and had to wipe back her tears; it was a very touching moment.

So, when I got home I was going to send her an e-mail telling her that I felt bad for her and how tragic it must be to lose her Dad at such a young age and all, when I opened an e-mail from my sister, who reminded me that this was the 12th anniversary of our father dying (April 2, 1986). It was such a peculiar conjuncture of events, that it prompted me to write this student a note about the difference between what Van Praagh would say to her and what I would say to her. She had talked about how she felt bad she didn't get to grow up with a Dad, and that her Dad didn't get to see her play basketball and volleyball or graduate from High School, e:

"It's okay Melissa, your dad is here now. He's telling me he loves you. He says he watches over you. He loves watching you play basketball and volleyball. He saw you graduate. He is with you always. Don't be sad. Don't cry. You will get to see him again. Everything is fine."

Well, no one knows if this is true, but even if it is, why would your dad talk with this guy you don't even know? Why would he choose to make his appearance at some hotel conference room with hundreds of other people around, or in some television studio? Why doesn't he talk to you instead? You're the one he loves, not this guy getting $40 a seat in a hall with 400 people, who just made two million bucks selling a book filled with this sort of blabber, or gets $200 for private readings. Why do you have to pay someone $200 to talk to your dad? Why? Because it makes you feel better, right? Wrong. This is why I do what I do.

Here is what I might say to someone who is grieving. In fact, to this student, to my sisters, and to my own daughter should I die before my time, I would say this:

"I'm really sorry this happened to you. It really isn't fair. It isn't fair at all. If I were you I would feel cheated and hurt; I might even be angry that I didn't get more time with my Dad. You have every right to feel bad. If you want to cry, you should. It's okay. It's more than okay. It's human. Very human.

All loving, caring people grieve when those they love are gone. And all of us, every last one of us, will experience this feeling at some point in our lives. Sometimes we grieve very deeply and for a very long time. Sometimes we get over it and sometimes we do not. Mostly we get on with our lives because there is nothing else we can do. But loving, caring people continue to think about their loved ones no matter how far they have gotten on with their lives, because our lost loved ones continue to live.

No one knows if they REALLY continue to live in some other place -- I suspect not -- but we do know for sure, with as much certainty as any scientific theory or philosophical argument can muster, that our loved ones continue to live in our memories and in our lives.

It isn't wrong to feel sad. It is right. Self-evidently right. It means we love and can be loved. It means our loved ones continue to live because we continue to miss them. Tears of sadness are really tears of love. Why shouldn't you cry for your Dad? He's your Dad and you love him. Don't let anyone try to take that away from you. The freedom to grieve and love is one of the fundamentals of being human. To try to take that freedom away on a chimera of feigned hope and promises that cannot be filled, is inhuman.

Celebrate your love for your Dad in every way you can. That is your right, your freedom, your humanness."

Michael Shermer

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