THE GRIEVING BRAIN:
How Our Neurons Map Love and Loss
by Mary-Frances O’Connor
Harper One, March 2022
There is the initial pain of loss, and then there is the grieving. We have long assigned grief to the realm of nebulous emotions, but we now know that the brain creates those emotions in response to many outside factors. Neuroscientist Mary-Frances O’Connor has been studying the effects of grief on the brain and body for more than twenty years, and the clues she has found as to how we cope with loss turn out to be rooted in how we fall in love. In THE GRIEVING BRAIN, she explores this new territory and explains what happens inside the brain when we become attached to another and then lose that loved one—and why it can be so difficult to imagine a future without them. (Hint: Sometimes the brain leads us to believe the death is just not true.)
For readers of popular science such as Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score and Lisa Feldman Barrett’s How Emotions Are Made, as well as Joan Didion’s memoir of loss, The Year of Magical Thinking, THE GRIEVING BRAIN offers remarkable insight into the inner workings of our minds and the evolution of grief. O’Connor’s explanation of the brain’s reaction to loss is an inspiring look at love. And her discovery, that we should think of grief as a form of learning, is a bold new perspective on a timeless struggle.
Mary-Frances O’Connor is the award-winning director of the Grief, Loss and Social Stress (GLASS) Lab, and an associate professor of psychology at the University of Arizona. She earned her degrees in psychology from Northwestern and in clinical psychology from the University of Arizona, and she completed her clinical training at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute and Hospital and her post-doctoral fellowship at the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. In 2017, she received the American Psychosomatic Society’s 75th Anniversary Award, given in recognition of her important career contributions in the field of mind-body medicine. She has previously appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and Good Morning Tucson, and has been featured in the New York Times and Psychology Today, among many others.