Claire Bidwell Smith is an author and grief therapist based in California. Her latest book, Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief, is an important exploration of how grief and anxiety are so commonly intertwined. Claire approaches each chapter from a raw, intimate vantage point: her parents were each diagnosed with cancer when she was 14, and by the time she was 25, they were both gone. Along the way and later, she developed severe, life-altering panic attacks.
Claire says she felt life was wholly out of her control. An only child, she felt alone and afraid and turned to alcohol to calm her anxiety. She eventually took leave from college. For our Q & A, Claire discusses the strategies that helped her heal, including keeping her parents’ memories alive. (Spoiler Alert! There’s a section in Anxiety called, “Allison Gilbert’s Suggestions for Keeping Memories Alive.) Claire also asked me to share a personal experience with anxiety following the loss of my mother and father. (Hint: My son was a new driver and missed his curfew by a few minutes. How did I react? Not well.)
Read my far-reaching Q & A with Claire here.
Allison: What one memento reminds you most of your mother and father?
Claire: I have a beautiful marble coffee table they bought in Oaxaca early in their marriage. It’s impossibly heavy and unwieldy, yet I’ve dragged it cross-country through several moves.
Allison: Where do you keep the table?
Claire: This coffee table is always holding court in my living room, stacked with current books and interesting objects from recent travels. My parents raised me to value both travel and books so this feels like a nice way to stay connected and honor them.
Allison: Is there anything you do outside of holidays and anniversaries to keep your parents present?
Claire: Yes! Always. Both cooking and traveling are important parts of my life. My father instilled in me the desire to explore the world and my mother taught me the art of nurturing through food.
Allison: What are the most satisfying ways you’ve developed for keeping your parents’ memories alive?
Claire: My favorite thing to do is tell stories about my parents to my two young daughters. I also love to cook my mother’s recipes with them.
Allison: Being proactive about remembering loved ones drives resilience and sparks happiness. Have you found this to be the case?
Claire: Absolutely. I think it’s very important to find ways to stay connected to our loved ones. I believe our relationships with our deceased loved ones continue long after they are gone, and the more we can stay connected the more healing our grief process will be.
Allison: Loss is a great teacher. In what way have you derived greater joy and meaning from life following loss?
Claire: Loss has been my greatest teacher. I often find myself grateful for all the ways grief has transformed me into a more compassionate and present person. There is very little I take for granted and I feel that even though the process has been painful, my heart is bigger and more open than ever.