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Grieving in Public: Open-door grieving

Until recently, when a well-known person died, the customary public response from the family was “Please respect our privacy at this difficult time.” Last year, two survivors of public figures have made a different choice. I’m wondering if that will invite more of us to become open about our own grieving.

Last March, Broadway star Nick Cordero, 41, contracted COVID-19 and was hospitalized for three months. His wife, and mother of their 1-year-old son, Amanda Kloots shared progress reports, setbacks, hopes, more setbacks, and more hopes, through posts and videos on Instagram. As she disclosed the amputation of his leg, his medically-induced coma, and feedback from his doctors, it became clear that his condition was worsening. Once he entered hospice, she continued to share.

In the post where she reported his death, she wrote, “I am in disbelief and hurting everywhere. My heart is broken as I cannot imagine our lives without him.” She continued posting when her family, who had relocated to support them, returned home, and when she and her son moved into the dream home they had been readying when Nick became sick. With searing honesty, she posted on the early days in the new house and her excitement to be where he so wanted to live, and also her sadness at his absence.

What accounts for her ability to put her most tender feelings into words for others to witness? She already had a platform as a dancer and Broadway performer and online fitness personality, and Nick had an even bigger one of fans, some of whom would belt out Nick’s song “Live Your Life” wherever they were at 3pm each day. Her post about his death received 600,000 likes and 67,000 comments. The hashtag #WakeUpNick was popular among those fans throughout his illness. Maybe it helps to know that someone is listening.

Amanda is not alone in voicing her grief in this year of loss. Vanessa Bryant, wife of Kobe Bryant and mother of Gigi Bryant, their 13-year-old daughter, who died in a helicopter crash last January, joins her She posted a message on Instagram on what would have been Kobe’s 42nd birthday in August:

"Our lives feel so empty without you and Gigi. I've been completely broken inside. As much as I want to cry, I put a smile on my face to make our daughters days shine a little brighter. I'm not the strong one, they are. They're strong and resilient. I'm sure you're proud of them. They put a smile on my face everyday," she wrote.

Vanessa endures the double loss of her husband and daughter; Amanda the loss of her husband and sorrow that her son will grow up without his father. What can we learn from their sharing?

Maybe the message from both these women is less about the particulars of their grief and more about resilience. And maybe it is about being heard about how love and loss have shaped their lives. It also seems to be about gratitude, as the people who loved their husbands from afar now offer support to them. Maybe “this difficult time” invites connection and empathy more than it used to. And maybe that will be a good thing for the rest of us to know.


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