CNN's Anderson Cooper Copes With Grief
The famous journalist has made a career of tracking grief around the globe while drowning out his own feelings of loss – until Hurricane Katrina.
Love and Loss continued...
"I had cauterized my feelings," he explains. "I wanted to feel -- to match my pain with what I was witnessing ... at first, I didn't even realize why I was always covering war. I just felt like a shark that had to stay in motion in order to live."
Everyone experiences grief in his or her own way, but there are certain tasks that each person who loses a loved one must undertake, says J. William Worden, co-director of the Harvard Child Bereavement Study and a professor at the Rosemead School of Psychology. The first task is accepting that the death has happened.
"Talking about a loss is a way to make it real," Worden says. "Part of how you make meaning is by telling others about the loss. ... It brings the reality home."
Cooper knew this to be true. He had seen others survive by sharing their suffering, as the grieving widows and mothers did in Sri Lanka. Yet he himself remained incapable of doing so until he began to write his own story. Since the beginning of his career he had been planning to write a book; he'd considered its structure and how it would jump back and forth in time and crisscross the globe. "It was always about loss -- an exploration of [it] and what other people have experienced," he says now.
But it took a brutal swipe from nature in the Delta to motivate him to begin writing. After years spent trying to escape those buried feelings, he landed at a place that reopened the original wound: New Orleans, a place his father once called home.
The Storm Hits
While covering Hurricane Katrina last September, Cooper found himself overwhelmed by memories of his father, who had lived in the Big Easy as a teenager and who had taken Cooper there as a child to visit. He passed his father's high school, and ran into his dad's former friends. "The past was all around," says Cooper. "I had forgotten all that, and it came rushing back."
Cooper's age when his father died, says Worden, is one of the toughest ages at which to lose a parent, especially a parent of the same sex. And sudden deaths are particularly difficult.