Powered by Grief
The world owes a great debt to those of us who have been stricken viciously with grief brought on by the death of a loved one. One might assume that we would be a weight to society—too distraught to work or to socialize, driving around in a dangerous fog most of the time, and sucking energy out of those around us. But what we bring to the party far outweighs the burdens we impose.
Grief is a monster. A monster that takes over the “living” or what is left of us, after we lose someone so important. While we spend a huge amount of our time in a tearful heap, not sleeping, and staring at the walls, the rest of the time we are wound tightly—giant balls of energy trying to stay alive, trying to make sense out of our lives, out of our loved one’s lives. We try to finish all the things they didn’t finish. We try to live their life and our life. And if they were very young, we want to create what they might have created. We don’t want them to be forgotten.
So with all that energy, all that anger…we get some shit done!
Think about it. Many of the causes that we take for granted on a daily basis, have been born out of mom and dads, husbands and wives, who are giant balls of grief energy.
Every time your phone goes off with an AMBER ALERT letting us to know to watch for an abducted child, we can thank the family of Amber Hagerman, a young girl who was abducted and murdered in 1996. Her parents worked tirelessly over the course of years to have this system activated on a national level in order to help other victims.
Barbara Kowalcyk, the mother of Kevin Kowalcyk who died from tainted meat, has worked endlessly to make sure that our food supply is safe and has created the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention, a non-profit public health organization.
Gene Wilder was one of the founders of Gilda’s Club. Named after his late wife, comedienne Gilda Radner, Gilda’s Club is a cancer support community that offers an array of services. Radner died from ovarian cancer.
We all know MADD – Mother’s Against Drunk Driving. It was founded in 1980 by Candace Lightner after her 13-year-old daughter Cari was killed by a drunk driver.
The list is endless…
And I’m no different. Soon after Pete died, his cardiologist, and good friend, Frank Fish and I initiated the Pete Huttlinger Fund for Adult Congenital Cardiac Research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Pete’s issues were all caused by a congenitally defective heart. I am also persistent in spreading the word of the Pete & Erin Huttlinger Humanism in Medicine Series – a speaker’s tour that brings entertainers with health issues to speak and perform at medical centers in order to share their stories of resilience with medical professionals, many of whom suffer from exhaustion and burnout. The series is designed to enlighten them and demonstrate that all the good work they do has a ripple effect far beyond the individual patient they treat.
Finally, I sit on the board of the Joe Beretta Foundation. Lillian Beretta and I have a lot in common. Both of our husbands (Pete and Joe) were saved by a VAD (ventricular assist device) and both of them eventually passed away due to their respective heart issues.
I’m not blowing my own horn. I’m only making the point that grief brings on a strength that most people had no idea that they had. It makes them do things that they not only couldn’t have imagined, but also things they never imagined they would have to do.
Just when I thought I was making headway on some of my programs I met Lillian and her family. Within only a month of Joe Beretta’s death, they decided that they needed to launch a foundation that would provide housing for VAD patients’ families while their loved ones were in the hospital. Think of it as a Ronald McDonald House for VAD families in need. Lillian noticed all the spouses sleeping in the hospital for weeks on end while their family member was hospitalized—she saw a need even though she wasn’t the one who needed it. This blog isn’t long enough to go into detail but I can tell you that in less than a year, their progress has made my head spin. Powered by grief!
These huge undertakings—these jobs that nobody wants to do or that nobody realizes need to be done, will be handled by those who are the most motivated and learned on a specific topic.
So…some of the most amazing endeavors have been powered by grief. On behalf of all of us grievers—“You’re welcome world!”
Have you been powered by grief? I love reading your comments!