Grief is an ‘extraordinary bond’ we all share

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NEW YORK — Grief is a common experience that is not discussed often enough, journalist and political commentator Anderson Cooper said during the opening session of the American Psychiatric Association annual meeting.

Cooper, anchor of CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360°” and host of “The Whole Story With Anderson Cooper,” told attendees that therapy has played an important role in this life.

Cooper shared his journey of grief and healing at the APA annual meeting. Image: Nancy Hemphill/Healio

His father died when he was 10 years old, and “I feel like the person I was died with him,” he said.

Then, 10 years later, his brother committed suicide.

“When a person is unable to complete a mourning task in childhood … there is a sadness for which you can never find an explanation,” Cooper said.

Despite our society being more connected than ever, “so many of us feel so isolated,” he said. “Everyone has dealt with grief: It’s a bond we all share, yet so many of us don’t talk about it. When you bury your grief to mute your sadness you also mute your ability to [experience] joy.

“I want to thank you for talking about it,” he told the audience.

Outgoing APA President Petros Levounis, MD, MA, spoke with Cooper onstage and asked him what psychiatrists get wrong.

“For all of the therapists I saw, it was never suggested to me that grief might be a part of the way I was feeling,” Cooper said.

“I get turned off by some of the language,” he continued, calling it “therapyspeak.”

“I get turned off by the word, ‘process.’ It’s overused. I grew up not speaking about anything. I was not a candidate for therapy. I had an issue in taking that step and trusting someone else.”

Cooper said he has developed the ability to “step into other people’s grief,” talking to them at the worst moment of their lives.

He discussed how becoming a parent was a turning point for him, noting it helped him understand his father’s experiences as a parent. It also made him realize he did not want his own children to see the same sadness he remembers seeing in his mother.

“I didn’t want my kids to see the sadness I carried with me in my eyes,” he said. “I’ve been very motivated to address my grief. I thought I dealt with my dad’s death. I never cried about it, but I never processed it until a year ago. It’s the most extraordinary revelation to realize the power of it and the impact it’s had on the entire trajectory of my life.”

Cooper said he has been frustrated with the loneliness of his grief.

“But the realization [that] everybody in this room has lost somebody — that’s an extraordinary bond. If only we were encouraged to talk about it more,” he said.

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