Pulling The Thread with Elise Loehnen

The Map of Loss (Mary-Frances O’Connor, PhD)

The Map of Loss (Mary-Frances O’Connor, PhD)

Pulling The Thread with Elise Loehnen - July 7, 2022 - 42:59

“I think I find great comfort in this idea that when you form that bond, when you fall in love, your neurons are actually changed the way that the electrical firing patterns happen in your brain, the way that proteins are folded are changed because of this one and only person that you have spent time with. And from that perspective, when my dad died, he is still here literally right in my physical brain. He's physically in my brain. Now. That's not, I mean, that's data on the one hand, but I also find it comforting on the other hand that he is still with me. And because it's with the brain that I perceive the whole world, he's also in a sense with me as I experience everything.” So says neuroscientist and professor Mary-Frances O’Connor, author of THE GRIEVING BRAIN. In her work, O’Connor studies the ways in which grief, loss, and bereavement imprint on the way we process the world—unable to physically map and locate the person who is now missing from our interpersonal landscapes, we must find new ways to navigate our lives, working around holes that feel, quite frankly, unbridgeable. I loved our conversation, because we explored both science and faith, as well as the enduring reality of grief: Those who have experienced loss understand that grief never goes away, even when you move past the stage of unrelenting grieving. We also talked about the new DSM-5 diagnosis of prolonged grief disorder, the pitfalls of rumination, and the essential nature of patience—both for ourselves and each other. At a time in our culture where we’re coping with massive loss—from the personal, to the cultural, to the environmental, O’Connor’s framework and language feels critical for understanding where we’re at. Particularly, as she points out, because the oscillations of grief work—moving from pain and anguish to moments of laughter and joy—is actually the framework for true mental health. Mental health is not maintaining happiness as status quo, she notes, it’s the flexibility to move through all emotions, including the most difficult ones.

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