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January 4, 2011 / The Promiscuous Reader

Getting through it or getting over it

Several years ago I read about a research study that determined a correlation between old age and the way in which a person responds to the death of loved ones.  Those people who aged well (healthily, happily and gracefully) were able to recover from their grief and considered death to be another part of life to deal with.  The article makes me think of my grandmother who had lost her own mother at a young age, an adult son and, most recently, her husband.  An image I have forever imprinted in my mind is my grandma, stoic throughout the day of her son’s funeral, finally laying down on the sofa after the guests had left and, eyes closed, quietly letting out a breath that had seemed to be held all day long.  Courage, that was.

Today in the New York Times, there was an article in the health section about how past adversity, including the loss of a loved one, can affect one’s resiliency.  In this case, it appears the University of Life wins out and previous negative experiences teach us how to better navigate future ones. Curiously, they determined that a happy medium of adverse events exists and almost serves to train the mind.  Just as overtraining for a marathon can lead to injury and undertraining can make it hard to finish, experiencing too much adversity can be overly taxing and too little can leave you unprepared.

Since this is the week of coincidences, last night I started reading Joan Didion’s book, The Year of Magical Thinking.  The book is about the year following the death of Didion’s husband and the life-threatening illness of her daughter.  As if that weren’t enough, while Didion was doing publicity for the book, her daughter died suddenly of a hematoma.  I anticipate a less than easy read but am forcing myself to do so.  Getting through the grief of losing someone we love is possible and bearing witness to someone’s process seems to be as much a part of life as working through it ourselves.

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