Jennifer Hudson has gifts few others have. She can evoke emotion through a song or as an actress, tapping into the ability of others to empathize with human stories they hear — whether those stories flow through speakers or play out on a movie screen.
Yet, in the face of Hudson’s nearly unthinkable loss of her mother and brother and nephew to murder, the universal language of grief is what millions of Americans will resonate with. And that human emotion — like true love — cannot be scripted or confined to any particular rhythm when it plays out in real life.
All of us who have ever loved anyone, never mind lost someone we cherished, can imagine getting the kind of call or visit Jennifer Hudson must have gotten — the kind that starts with someone hinting at a tragedy, telling you, in the tone of voice reserved for tragedy, that something has gone terribly wrong, and you need to come back to your hometown or down to a police station.
All of us can imagine the way the human mind then thirsts for the rest of the facts, to try to steady one’s heart amidst potential chaos — to know exactly what has happened, when, and to whom. We instinctively assess the damage to our lives, because of what has happened to one or more people who share our lives. Because no one among us, we learn at moments like this, is purely and solely an individual. We are connected to one another in ways we sometimes feel most acutely when those connections are severed.
I’ve counseled enough bereaved people to know that the journey back to well-being can be long and painful, and never ends just where it began. Loss changes us, whether we want it to or not. It makes us confront the impermanence of life, including our own lives. It reopens old wounds —other times when we felt powerless or vulnerable or alone. It makes us question whether we have any power to protect the things we care most about. If we resist it and try to close our hearts and minds to it, it can make itself known through anxiety disorders or major depression, as if the nervous system itself needs to put loss and grief in context, in order to function normally.
Getting through grief takes a willingness to keep your heart open to your connections — in life — to people who have passed away. It means looking at your relationships with them in all their complexities, rather than sterilizing them into the equivalent of emotional or psychological greeting cards. It means coming to a place where you truly appreciate that everything you do in life and everyone you meet in the future will be affected by those you embraced in the past —because they are inextricably and forever a part of you.
Jennifer Hudson has won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. She is an entertainer, a star. In these ways she is very different from most of us. But today and for every day to come, she is by virtue of what she has endured, very much the same as we are, in our fears and vulnerabilities and capacity to rise up and hold oneself up and take the next step in our imperfect lives. She is, in her grief, a human being and a survivor.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for FOX News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His newest book, “Living the Truth: Transform Your Life through the Power of Insight and Honesty” has launched a new self-help movement. Check out Dr. Ablow’s website at livingthetruth.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.