What “Red and Me” Taught Me About The Grief Journey

A Boston State of Mind

I have been a Boston Celtics fan since I was fourteen years old. I know that there are many New Yorkers who like Boston teams, but from my experience it has been mainly the Boston Red Sox. I may be one of the few New Yorkers who has ever liked the Boston Celtics. When it comes to basketball, many New Yorkers are primarily New York Knicks fans. I always liked the Celtics because they played great team basketball, weren’t hung up on individual accomplishments and had players and coaches who conducted themselves with integrity. My deceased mother Sadie and my deceased mentor Don taught me how to treat and work with people from all backgrounds and modeled integrity in everything they did. Those were lessons I took to heart and consequently they became a part of everything that I did, and every interaction that I had with another human being.  I have discovered that integrity is a very important quality to possess not only in establishing friendships, but also when supporting bereaved individuals . After reading “Red and Me” by Bill Russell, I discovered more lessons that I believe apply.


The Significance of Integrity

Bill Russell’s book “Red and Me” was about not only his relationship with his coach, Red Auerbach, but the friendship that they developed not only during his career with the Boston Celtics but after his playing career was over. Bill Russell was one of the greatest players in basketball history and Red Auerbach one of the great coaches of all time. During the reading of “Red and Me”, I discovered some principles that both Bill Russell and Red Auerbach valued that enabled them to develop that bond with each other. Among the common principles that Russell alluded to were:  honor, dignity and responsibility and accountability. From my perspective, these terms relate to one common principle: integrity. According to dictionary.com the definition of integrity is: adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. In the context of a counselor/therapist-client relationship, the client will more likely become engaged in counseling or therapy if he/she perceives the counselor or therapist to have integrity. Grieving individuals will be more likely to accept support from someone who not only understands their situation, but also possesses integrity.


In Bill's Eyes

“Red and Me” was a truly enjoyable read and a great guide to learning how to develop lasting friendships based on unconditional love and acceptance .


Here are some excerpts from the book that represent some of Bill Russell’s core beliefs and values. I will also make my own observations about their relevance in the world of grief and grief support.


#1. If you can allow yourself to accept and enjoy someone for who they are without trying to control or change them, you can establish a lasting relationship.

Not all men and women were created equally. We all possess individual differences that collectively contribute to a world that is diverse and interesting.  Bereaved individuals will grieve in a manner that is consistent with who they are and what their core values are. My belief is that the best way to support someone in their grief journey is to meet him/her “where they’re at”, not where we would like them to be.


#2. I will not let any man impose their will on me.

This was a lesson that was passed down to Bill Russell from his grandfather and a belief that he wears on his sleeve today. On the surface this relates to the first lesson cited in this section. I believe however that there is another layer that needs to be considered. In early grief, it is not uncommon to hear bereaved individuals express their concerns over others’ perceptions of how they should grieve. Time limits (e.g. six months to one year) for grief to be expressed are imposed on the bereaved by others.  With that also comes their belief that the bereaved individual’s life should return to normal after that finite period of time passes. Though their intentions may be sincere, they are perceived as attempting to dictate how the bereaved should and should not grieve. That is why I strongly believe that the bereaved need to empower themselves to grieve in a way that is consistent with their core values and to choose the support network that they believe will be most beneficial to them in their journeys.


#3: It is far more important to understand that to be understood. 

In “Red and Me” ,Bill Russell disclosed that he didn’t remember if this quote was his ,or if he  heard it somewhere else. Regardless, this is a powerful truth as it relates to being present to stories from the bereaved about their deceased loved ones and what gets in the way of that.  I believe that  what hinders our ability to be present is the need to tell our own story in detail, to the person we are supposed to be companioning. In our role as companions to others, our stories need to take a back seat to their stories. They do not need to understand our stories, but it is imperative that we strive to understand their stories.  



"The best way to forget ones self is to look at the world with attention and love."

Red Auerbach

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About the Author
I became a parent who experienced the death of a child after my daughter Jeannine died of cancer on 3/1/03 at the age of 18. I am a retired addiction professional and am also an adjunct professor in the psychology and psychology-child life departments at Utica College. In 2007, I established Bootsy and Angel Books, LLC(www.bootsyandangel.com). The mission of Bootsy and Angel Books is to provide information, support, and services to individuals and families who have experienced the death of a child or other catastrophic losses. I have presented workshops at national conferences of The Compassionate Friends since 2008 and at gatherings of the Bereaved Parents of the USAin 2009 , 2011 and 2012. I have been a keynote speaker for national gathering of the Bereaved Parents of the USA in both 2011 and 2015. I am also the chapter leader for The Compassionate Friends of the Mohawk Valley. I have contributed articles to Living with Loss Magazine ,We Need Not Walk Alone, Hello Grief and Recovering the Self Journal. I have co-authored two books with Linda Findlay of Mourning Discoveries on navigating through grief during the holidays and pet loss. I am a contributing writer for the Open to Hope Foundation and have also appeared on Healing the Grieving Heart and the Open to Hope Television show.. I am also a featured speaker, workshop presenter and coach for Aspire Place(www.aspireplace.com) You can also find me on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/david.j.roberts1
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