When psychoneuroimmunology researchers Dr. Julienne Bower and Dr. Margaret Kemeny (Bower et al. 1998) studied HIV-positive men who had lost partners or close friends to AIDS at the peak of the AIDS crisis, they discovered that the survivors who were able to find meaning in the death of partners or friends had healthier immune systems and better longevity over the following three years than those who found none. And they became committed to living life more fully than they had before their loss.
Candy Lightner provides a dramatic example of this. After her daughter was killed by a repeat drunk driver, she channeled her pain and despair into taking action in harmony with what she valued. She became determined to find a way to take drunk drivers off the road and, with enormous resolve, founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Thanks to her and many others sharing her purpose, MADD has improved DUI (aka DWI) laws and enforcement. By channeling her grief in this very positive way of serving others, she found new meaning in her life, which most likely improved her state of mind, health, and quality of life.
Bower J, Kemeny M, Taylor S, and Fahey J. Cognitive processing, discovery of meaning, CD4 decline, and AIDS-related mortality among bereaved HIV-seropositive men. J of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1998;66:979-986.
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