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Paul Newman and the Demons Of Death

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One of the great icons of our time has died. Paul Newman left this world on September 26, 2008, after a lengthy battle with cancer. A day later, Barbara Barnett, Jen Johans, and Diane Saenger, all Blogcritics writers, paid tribute on our website to this legendary movie giant, social activist, race car driver, and philanthropist.

Grief is the universal leveler, loss the common denominator, linking every human being throughout the world. Everyone’s life is touched by losses, death, and grief. As Emily Dickinson so eloquently reminded us, “Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me.”

Even though death is a given in all of our lives, the question remains, “What does one do with this sense of sadness, loss, and longing?” Loss has such a “hollow feel” to it, a sense of longing, an emptiness within that brings us to tears or makes us aimlessly wander about the house touching objects or mementos that help keep the person alive for us. Thoughts and memories of the beloved echo in our mind’s eye. For some, there may be a perpetual lump in the throat or the feeling of a boulder sitting on the chest. One’s heart may actually ache from the loss.

Grief feels surreal. The world continues to function and everything appears to be the same. Yet it feels as if nothing will ever be “normal” again. Certainly, loss occurs on a physical level. The deceased is forever gone from our lives, a realization that can be paralyzing, agonizing, and immobilizing. The loss also prohibits any type of future with the deceased. No more memory-making; it’s all in the past now.

Please know there is no such phenomenon as “getting over” the death of a loved person in our lives. What happens, rather, is that we accommodate and adapt to their absence and all that that entails.

Honor every feeling, as there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Sometimes when a famous person dies, like Paul Newman, it taps into our own feelings of loss and sadness as a reminder of those who are no longer present in our personal lives. It also can be a reminder of our own mortality.

Newman himself was no stranger to grief. He lost his 29-year-old son to a drug and alcohol overdose in 1978. No grief is as deep or as long-lasting as that of a parent who has had a child die. It doesn’t matter whether the child was an adult or very young. According to the “laws of the universe,” parents are to precede their offspring in death. That’s simply the way it’s supposed to be.

Yet Newman found a way to turn tragedy into victory. He and his wife, Joanne Woodward, established a Los Angeles drug rehab facility in his son’s name. They also were instrumental in the creation of the Hole In The Wall Gang Camps for terminally ill children. Thus the Newmans honored their son, celebrating his life by giving others a second chance at theirs.

At our house today we are spending the afternoon with Fast Eddie Felson, Chance Wayne, Hud Bannon, Luke Jackson, and Butch Cassidy. A Virgin Lemonade toast to you, Mr. Newman, for all that you were and the millions of lives you touched. A second toast to all of my own loved ones who have passed away. None of you will be forgotten and all of you are missed. To Life!

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About Dr. Juliann Mitchell, PhD

  • Great tribute, and good ideas in dealing with grief.

  • Good Lord, this planet is so much sadder without Paul Newman. Thanks for this post.

  • Dear Dr. Julianne,

    Thanks for your truly wonderful, insightful commentary on loss. You said what I’ve never been able to put into words.