Grief and ice cream: Honesty is the best policy

Like ice cream, feelings need to be free of artificial flavor and coloring. Photo:

WASHINGTON, July 26, 2011 — There’s a great advantage in the ability to name things accurately. For example, if the only thing you know how to say about ice cream flavors is “vanilla,” you’re out luck for every other flavor. No moose, monkey, cow, bunny, elephant, or Chocolate Treasure Tracks for you.

An even harder challenge is naming feelings, especially the bad ones, because these generally require much more attention than the good ones, not only in terms of alleviating them, but also for understanding them in the first place.

Asking people doesn’t always help either, when words like sadness, grief, and depression are so easy to toss around and have many separate as well as overlapping definitions—and when each of these feelings can be an ingredient of the other.

Strangely enough, feelings are like ice cream. If it doesn’t look, taste, feel, and smell like ice cream, it ain’t ice cream, even if it’s cute. The same goes for feelings. Fooling around with feelings, you can be just darling in your dishonesty.

Cone cupcakes. Vanilla? Yes. Ice cream? No.

No Secret Ingredients

With feelings, as with ice cream, you don’t want any nasty secret ingredients, like chocolate-covered ants, bitter almonds (cyanide!) instead of butter almonds, pea gravel instead of peanuts. Which means no Jerry Springer antics, no manufactured drama, no crocodile tears.

Feelings need to be free of artificial flavor and coloring. They’re difficult enough to deal with all by themselves, so why clutter them up with junque and/or method acting?

In fact, sadness, depression, and grief look so alike you can’t tell the difference. Sometimes they even blend and merge.

Seeing someone suffering under those circumstances, how can you be helpful?

Complicated flavors need honest ingredients.

Identifying emotional nuances can be challenging, and this article is not a how-to for deconstructing complicated feelings. However, one habit can be cultivated that can be of help, and that is emotional honesty, delivered with tact. It’s the fastest, cleanest way to giving and receiving comfort.

Grief Relief

Yes, someone else’s grief can give you grief. It can be as annoying as hell, but how you respond to it is the difference between justice and mercy.

Name your feeling, name your flavor, and go out for ice cream. Pick nice, complicated flavors, and talk about bad, complicated feelings—together.


Frances Ponick’s book, Only Angels Can Wing It: How to Prepare a Eulogy Quickly and Present It Compassionately, is available in paperback and will soon be available online. Frances coaches written and verbal communications and is the writer’s block expert at AllExperts. Feel free to ask questions there, or connect with her at Twitter, Facebook, and/or LinkedIn. 

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Frances Ponick

Fran Ponick is a speaker, author, commentator, teacher, and coach. She has decades of experience in technical, business, marketing, and proposal writing and editing, and has won awards in journalism, formal poetry, and acting. She has also served as a consultant to DoD. Her book, Only Angels Can Wing It: How to Prepare a Eulogy Quickly and Present It Compassionately, is available from


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