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updated: 4/24/2018 9:57 AM

Last Kiss: Some widows heal from grief by healing others

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  • Video: Last Kiss epilogue

  • Grief expert Amy Florian of Hoffman Estates smiles years ago with her late husband John Willenborg on his 20th birthday celebration when they were living in Iowa.

    Grief expert Amy Florian of Hoffman Estates smiles years ago with her late husband John Willenborg on his 20th birthday celebration when they were living in Iowa.
    Courtesy/Amy Florian

 
 

Amy Florian was 25 and living in Iowa when her husband, John, was killed in a car crash on an icy road.

Devastated, she began keeping a journal of her grief and reading everything she could to learn how to cope.

Three decades later, she lives in Hoffman Estates and runs Corgenius, a consulting company that helps businesses deal with work-related grief issues.

She's nationally recognized as an expert on loss; a founder of a metro area support group for widows and widowers; an instructor at Camp Widow, a weekend event that brings together widowed people from around the world; and an author of several books on grief, including "A Friend Indeed: Help Those You Love When They Grieve," a 2017 International Book Award winner.

"John's death," she writes on corgenius.com, "began my lifelong mission of helping people heal from life's crushing losses."

For some, coping with the death of a spouse evolves into a second life dedicated to helping others heal from the same grief.

Grief philanthropist Scott Bauer of Long Grove with his late wife Lauri and their sons, from left, Jake, Brett and Alex at Jake's bar mitzvah in 2010.
Grief philanthropist Scott Bauer of Long Grove with his late wife Lauri and their sons, from left, Jake, Brett and Alex at Jake's bar mitzvah in 2010. - Courtesy/Scott Bauer

Scott Bauer, a market trader from Long Grove, founded the Lauri S. Bauer Foundation for Sudden Loss in 2011 after his wife died unexpectedly at age 43 from an undiagnosed heart arrhythmia.

Among the organization's achievements -- opening Barr-Harris Children's Grief Centers in Deerfield and Evanston; creating a school outreach program to provide in-school therapy for grief-related issues; co-sponsoring Hand in Hand, a grief support group in Northbrook for spouses age 55 and younger; and creating a private Facebook page, Widowed & Healing.

He's developed such expertise and influence on the topic that he is a member of the executive board of the National Alliance for Grieving Children.

His inspiration?

"I learned that I'm in the 1 percent category, with an incredible amount of support," Bauer says. "Ninety-nine percent of the people who go through this don't have the support, emotionally or financially."

Grief blogger Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow and her late husband Dr. Baheej Khleif.
Grief blogger Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow and her late husband Dr. Baheej Khleif. - Courtesy/Susan Anderson-Khleif

Susan Anderson-Khleif, a retired Wellesley College professor and Motorola executive, began a blog called longtermgrief.tumblr.com after her husband of 44 years died six years ago.

"I realized that there is a type of grief that doesn't go away," the Sleepy Hollow resident says.

Anderson-Khleif's blog opens like this:

"There is a story many know about Queen Victoria of England -- who mourned her dear husband Albert by leaving his room, his clothes in the closet and all his things exactly as he left them the day he died. And here, people always thought that was quite strange. Here, we are expected to 'get over it' or 'get past it.' Especially as the years move on. But that's not how it works. How it works is a little thing I call 'long term grief.'"

Support group volunteer Emily Monroe of Arlington Heights and her late husband John.
Support group volunteer Emily Monroe of Arlington Heights and her late husband John. - Courtesy/Emily Monroe

Emily Monroe, a retired teacher in Arlington Heights, joined the Begin Again grief support group at Northwest Community Hospital after her husband, John, died.

"It gave me hope," she says, "because I could see that people who were widowed a month or two longer that I was were coping better than I was. I could see that grief is a process."

She ended up becoming a support group leader for almost 20 years so she could help others the way the group had helped her.

"Everybody feels that their future is gone," Florian says. "That's actually not true. Your future's not gone. It's just going to be a completely different future than you had planned.

"Joy is possible. Healing is possible. We can get there. The greatest memorial you can ever build to someone you love is to live your life now as fully as possible enriched by their memory."

Last Kiss rose

THE LAST KISS SERIES

Patty & Corey: The Heartbreak.

Diana & Joe: A widow's advice: Embrace bereavement, don't avoid it A Straight From the Source story.

Janice & Joe A story of someday A Straight From the Source story

Janice & Joe Five lessons I've learned so far A Straight From the Source story

Patty & Corey: The Love Story.

Patricia & Tim: A widow cherishes the memories of her warrior A Straight From the Source story

Bill & Marian: A love that lives in dreams A Straight From the Source story

Dennis & Maggie: I reread her letters, I played her favorite songs A Straight From the Source story

Dennis & Maggie: Just Let Me Talk A Straight From the Source story

Patty & Corey: A widow wishes she had asked for one more kiss.

Patty & Corey: A widow's mission to sustain her husband's barbershop.

Donald & Helen: A widower's essay becomes his daughter's short film A Straight From the Source story

Susan & Guy: A widow's guide to dealing with the loss of a spouse A Straight From the Source story

Ted & Donna A widower's plan to count his blessing at times of deepest grief A Straight From the Source story

Fred & Beverly: Unique and Devastating Loss (by Wifeless) A Straight From the Source story

Last Kiss Epilogue: Some widows heal from grief by healing others

Ken & Michele: A widower's story of a loving couple's life A Straight From the Source story

Stories of loss from our readers


For more on the series, please click here.


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