Hospital Orientation

Sadness...Sadness is one of those emotions that's more complicated than it looks. Like anger, it is part of an iceberg. Unlike anger, when it moves above the water level, it doesn't stay there for long. It's pushed below and does its best to hide, supporting the anger above that gives it voice. When Amy's parents see her afraid, confused and generally unhappy about her hospitalization, they hurt, too, but they believe that to show their sadness is to increase Amy's. And so they smile hard, put on happy faces, and pretend. Or else they keep the sadness inside, expressing that surface anger instead. They keep it below the water level, away from the possibility of spilling from their eyes in tears. That's a shame.

When Jeffrey climbs into his mother's arms, asking her not to leave him in the hospital, she pats his seven-year-old head and tells him to be a big boy, to cheer up, and to think happy thoughts. She thinks that if he swallows his sadness, like she has done her own, that everything will be OK. It won't.

Instead, Amy and Jeffrey may be learning that it's not OK to be sad, or afraid, or frustrated. They may be learning that some things are acceptable to talk about, and others are not. And they certainly are learning to watch their parents carefully and to figure out how to act from their example. It's just that it's hard to be a good example when situations are difficult, and feelings are shoved under the water level. 

Here are some ideas that might help.

  • *Feelings must be acknowledged before 
  •   they can be resolved. 
  • *Crying often releases tension. 
  • *It's almost impossible to cheer up when nobody understands the troubles you feel. And that goes for everybody, children and parents alike.
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Joan Fleitas, Ed.D., R.N.
Associate Professor of Nursing, Lehman College, CUNY
Bronx, New York 10468

Last updated: November 14, 2004