How Connection Helps Us Through Grief

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A New Definition of Grief

 “Sadness shared is halved; joy shared is doubled.”

One of my favorite Broadway shows is “Rent” by American composer Jonathan Larson. Andrew Garfield, who plays the late Larson in the autobiographical movie “Tick, Tick…Boom!”, spoke recently about grief and how it has impacted his life. Appearing on Stephen Colbert, Garfield expressed his appreciation for being tapped to play the part by famed producer Lin Manual Miranda.

At the time the movie was being filmed, Garfield’s mother had just died. His performance paid tribute both to her and to Larson’s life. He has often spoken of his mother’s greatest lesson – “she taught me about unconditional love and about ‘her people’ – and that she was his hero throughout his life.

In tears, he described grief in the most uniquely eloquent way.

Grief is unexpressed love. Grief remains with us because we never get enough time with each other. I hope this grief stays with me because it is all the unexpressed love I didn’t get to tell my mother.

We all know somewhere deep down that life is sacred, and life is short, and we better just be here as much as possible with each other, holding onto each other. Grief allows us to sew up our wounds.”

Why Being a Connector Lessens Grief

Recently, my next-door neighbor lost her husband of 15 years. A second marriage for both of them, they had no children and family lived far away. But they were everything to each other and their closeness created tremendous happiness.

Now that my neighbor is a widow, I have worried about her wellbeing. Soon after her husband’s death, I called her to check in. “How are you?” I asked. “I am doing better than expected, all things considered,” she responded. I wanted to know why she felt that way.

“Bill and I made a habit of cultivating lots of friendships, both inside and outside of our marriage. It’s those connections that are sustaining me now,” she explained.

Take note. Connecting with others has value in two ways: It benefits those we invest time in. But, as importantly, it benefits us. In times of trouble or distress, our connections become our lifelines.

How Do You Stay Connected for the Long Term?

Bob Beaudine, a Dallas friend and business executive, has written a powerful book about the value of long-term connections. Called “The Power of Who,” the book’s premise is that we can all access a lifegiving force — people who are our “who.” These are people in our inner circle who can be resources in life’s joyful and life’s difficult moments.

But, he cautions, it’s against the rules to say someone is in our inner circle if we never stay in touch with them. The litmus test: who’d we call in the case of bad news when we need help in that moment.

You might think your high school friend is your best friend and one of your “who”. But if he or she can’t provide you any meaningful support today because you two are only in touch infrequently, that person isn’t really your “who”.

So how DO you stay connected over many years? There are two important steps.

  1. Take the initiative – if the relationship matters to you, accept your part of obligation to initiate and maintain contact. There are no hard and fast rules about frequency or format of the contact. But you can’t allow years to slip away and think old relationships will always provide you nurture and support when you need them most.
  2. Reciprocate – Be the kind of person who checks in and gives back. Even if it is inconvenient, make the effort to help or respond when your connections need you. This mutual reciprocity will be beneficial for everyone.

Experiencing Connection Through and Beyond Grief

Going through life without grief is impossible. But you needn’t experience it alone. Think of your connections as the lifeline that pulls you through and out of your pain. Being a connector has lifelong value.

Write to me at and tell me how your connections have helped you through grief and hard times.


  • Ann Louden

    A seasoned executive in the nonprofit world, Ann Louden is the founder and CEO of Ann Louden Strategy and Consulting. Recognized for her expertise in fund raising, high profile special events, and campaign planning, Ann provides counsel to chief executives, staff, and volunteer leadership. Ann’s primary interest areas are education, health care for women and children, the arts, and adoption. As a cancer survivor, she led and was the twelve-year spokesperson for a breast cancer advocacy initiative that engaged thousands of survivors, volunteers and medical providers. With a mantra of bringing big ideas to life, Ann focuses on identifying a compelling vision and creating a goals-oriented plan for execution. An in-demand national speaker for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, Ann is the recipient of the Steuben Excellence in Teaching Award and has been named as a CASE Laureate. She is the author of the upcoming book: From Social Courage to Connection: Lessons from Leaders Who Change and Save Lives. You can find her at

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