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Health & Balance

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.
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The Storm Hits continued...

"Losing a parent at an early age, [kids] are not prepared. Their coping strategies are not matured," says Worden, author of Children and Grief: When a Parent Dies. "And sudden deaths are more difficult to wrap their minds around. There is hurt and often a feeling of the need to protect oneself against loss. ... If you feel vulnerable and have no resources to talk, you close down."

Which is just what Cooper did: "For years I tried to swaddle the pain, encase the feelings. I boxed them up along with [my father's] papers, stored them away, promising one day to sort it all out," he writes. "All I managed to do was deaden myself to my feelings, detach myself from life. That only works for so long."

He put off his pain by being constantly on the move, moving from one tragedy to the next, like an addiction. He writes of the world's most tumultuous regions: "The pain was palpable; you breathed it in the air. Back here [in the United States] no one talked about life and death. No one seemed to understand. I'd go to movies, see friends, but after a couple of days I'd catch myself reading plane schedules, looking for something, someplace to go."

Wherever he landed, others' tragedies made his seem less significant. Surveying the carnage after the tsunami and talking with its survivors, he says, "It's a strange calculus of survival. I've lost two people. They've lost whole families; they don't even have any pictures left."

For psychologist/author Worden, that type of reflection is often healthy -- especially for a child. When a young person suddenly loses a parent, it is often as if his whole world has collapsed. Later, witnessing greater suffering can "give perspective on his own pain ... and it's helpful to see that others survived."

It shows the child that he can, as well.

Living With Grief

As a boy, Cooper reacted to his father's death not only by closing himself off to the world but also by determining to become absolutely self-reliant: He wanted to prepare himself for future losses. He took survivalist courses while in high school, earned his own money despite being born to wealth, and made his own way in his career, starting as a fact-checker, then working as a freelance journalist, traveling alone with a fake press pass to cover conflicts in faraway places like Burma and Bosnia. He often reflected on survival, both others' and his own.

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