EP. 56: YOUR BRAIN ON GRIEF: MARY-FRANCIS O’CONNOR ON LEARNING FROM LOSS

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If our loved one isn’t here, our brain believes that they are simply somewhere else, and motivates us to seek them – Mary-Francis O’Connor 

Back in the 80s, there was a PSA commercial that made an indelible impression on me: a man cracks an egg onto a sizzling hot frying pan, representing “your brain on drugs.” It was pretty reductive (do prescription meds count?), oversimplifying something a lot more complex, but man, what a visual. 

For profound loss, we often say we are heartbroken, but it is more accurate to say we are brain broken given the primacy of the role our brains play in how we feel about loss. 

On this podcast, my guest is Mary-Francis O’Connor. 

Mary-Francis is a professor of Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Arizona and is the Director of the Grief, Loss, and Social Stress Lab, where she and her colleagues are creating new frameworks for understanding grief and the grieving process. 

Those of you on my subscriber list know very recently, I lost a very close friend very suddenly, and I was really caught off guard by its impact on me in the sense that I’ve studied grief and even had a prior guest (Lucy Hone) on to discuss it, but the floor just kind of fell out under me and I kind of went into a little depressive mood that I’m just now lifting my head out of. 

Now, this is all very normal, I’m sure, but it, it made me want to revisit grief and loss and its impact in the context of physiology, specifically the brain, and any downstream effects on the body. 

So on the show, we cover these topics …

  • Difference between grief different from grieving
  • How our brain is physically changed by those we bond with. 
  • How grief changes over time
  • Defining complicated grief
  • We discuss the mortality rates for those who fail to adapt to loss
  • General loss, death isn’t the only loss type we grieve; it can be a job, an identity, or anything we are attached to
  • How lost loved ones really stay with us, outside of any mystical experience

 

Mary-Francis was a delight to talk to – enjoy!  

Resources mentioned in this episode.

 

 

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