- Featured Article - Different rooms: The reality of loss, the possibility of healing and the gift that love itself never recedes

06.24.24 11:47 AM Comment(s) By Amy

Recently, I was quoted extensively in an article for the Daily Herald newspaper. It is available here, but requires a subscription.

Here is a repost of the article contents, enjoy!

Different rooms: The reality of loss, the possibility of healing and the gift that love itself never recedes
By John Lampinen. Published in the Daily Herald, the newspaper of NW Chicago Suburbs. June 9, 2024. Reprinted with permission.

In the May issue of The Atlantic, political pundit David Frum writes exquisitely about his efforts to cope with the unexpected death in February of his 32-year-old daughter Miranda.

“The nights are the worst,” he writes. “Thoughts come crashing into the mind: every missed medical clue, every pleasure needlessly denied, every word of impatience, every failure of insight and understanding. Like seasickness, the grief ebbs and surges, intervals of comparative calm punctuated by spasms of racking pain.”

So poignant. Such a natural, perhaps unavoidable human response. Intimate grief, Frum called it, and I like the phrase. Not all grief is alike. Some grief is relatively gentle to pack and carry as a kind, somewhat occasional companion.

But grief over the loss of a child, grief over the loss of a spouse... those indeed are intimate griefs that change your life. In an interview later with MSNBC, one of several outlets that reached out to him after publication of his column, Frum described it as a “grief that perseveres, grief that won't give up.”

Long-term grief columnist Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has called it “a type of grief that doesn't go away.” How do you find comfort wrapped inside such intimate grief? “There is a sacredness in tears,” 19th century writer Washington Irving observed. “They are not the mark of weakness but of power. They speak more eloquently than 10,000 tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”

Coincidentally, The Atlantic article appeared on the sixth anniversary of our publication of “Last Kiss,” a series that explored the grief that inevitably confronts almost every couple: the loss of a spouse.

In Frum, we hear such echoes. The loudest echo: “One of the things I'm really struck by,” Frum said in that MSNBC interview, “is how many people who have an intimate loss like this describe afterward a feeling of loneliness. Because grief, if you're not the grieving person, is very hard to deal with. People are so afraid of saying the wrong thing so they say nothing. They can treat the grieving person as something of a pariah.”

In our 2018 research for “Last Kiss,” we were struck repeatedly by the isolation survivors felt after the condolences stopped in the days, weeks and months after the memorial services. Friends and relatives move on to life as normal; the intimate survivor does not. “The survivors suffer this loss largely in solitude,” our own columnist Jim Slusher quoted me as saying back then. “It is such a great lonely grief.”

How — ever — does a survivor move past that? There are no easy answers, but it starts with friends and relatives: Check in on occasion, even as the days roll by; don't assume that this is a grief that fades. Understand that outward cheerfulness can mask inner heartache. As poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “There is no grief like the grief that does not speak.”

And for the survivor: Reach out, even as time goes by. Help those who love you do what they can. As to the middle-of-the-night second guessing, yes, it is natural. But also pointless. Embrace the love you shared; pay tribute to that bond, not to human imperfections. Trust us, those imperfections were not among your loved one's last thoughts.

Psychologist J. William Worden offers “Four Tasks of Grief” for those seeking to heal: One, accept the reality of the loss; two, process the pain of grief; three, adjust to a world in which the deceased person is missing; and four, find an enduring connection with the deceased while embarking on a new life.

Be comforted to know that, as the great poet Maya Angelou counseled, “After a period, peace blooms, slowly and always irregularly. Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration. Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us. They existed. We can be. Be and be better. For they existed.” Helen Keller explained the healing this way: “What we once enjoyed and deeply loved, we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

Becomes a part of us. We like that. We like the inspiration and the truth of it. We are, each of us, testaments to the lives of those we have loved.

As to Frum's grief, he centers his healing around taking care of Miranda's dog Ringo. “Love has to go somewhere,” he said in that broadcast interview. “You can't just put it in the ground. You can't spend your life suffering, although you will suffer. You have to find a way to take the love you felt for her and direct it, to make things beautiful, care for the things that were important to her.”

Amy Florian, now of Hoffman Estates and a member of our Editorial Board's advisory panel, became a widow more than 30 years ago when her first husband was killed in a car crash. “Everybody feels that their future is gone,” Florian told us long ago. “That's actually not true. Your future is not gone. It's just going to be a completely different future than you had planned.”

The trauma prompted her to pursue academic study of grief, and she's become a nationally renowned expert on loss and healing, an award-winning author of several books on the topic including “A Friend Indeed: Help Those You Love When They Grieve” and a consultant who helps businesses deal with work-related grief issues.

“Our society seems to think the goal is to put it behind you and get on with life,” Florian says. “That's not the goal. You never take someone you love, put them in a convenient box marked 'Past' and leave them behind while you go on. And you never forget. You're not supposed to forget. They're a part of you quite literally — the proteins in your brain folded in a certain way in response to your attachment to them and those proteins never unfold.

“Although you do have to let go of what can no longer be — you won't get their hug, hear their laugh in person, watch that show together — you create memories and stories, and you carry them with you for the rest of your life. You carry their life with you, you carry their love with you, you carry who you have become because this person was in your life and loved you. You are forever changed.

“In that sense, the grief never ends, but the pain subsides, the grief changes, you cherish the past without living in it, and life becomes wonderful again. You can go on, heal, find new purpose, build a life worth living that honors their memory and what you learned from their life and death, and reconnect with joy.

“There will never be a time when you stop wondering what life would be like if they were still alive, or when you never cry again. You can always get a wave of emotion. It happens less and less often and it is less and less intense over time, but it's a good thing that it can still happen years later. It means you're carrying them with you.”

Our hearts, like the hearts of so many, go out to Frum and to all those who grieve. To them, let us today offer this faithful comfort from Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho: “We never lose our loved ones. They accompany us. They don't disappear from our lives. We are merely in different rooms.”

Yes. With us. But in different rooms.


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