California's First Lady Maria Shriver conducted an unusual symposium on grief at the Women's Conference 2009 in Long Beach on Tuesday. Shriver who recently lost both her mother, Eunice Shriver, and her uncle, Sen. Ted Kennedy, got three well-known women to open up about how they have dealt with the loss of a loved one.
The conversation was called "Grief, Healing and Resilience." Each of the women shared lessons learned from dealing with a very personal loss.
Lisa Niemi, whose husband actor Patrick Swayze died from pancreatic cancer last month, told the symposium she came across the movie "Ghost" recently, but could only watch a few minutes of it. Swayze starred in the movie as a ghost who managed to communicate with the wife he left behind.
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"I could understand your hesitation," said Elizabeth Edwards, who lost her 15-year-old son, Wade, to a traffic accident. Edwards and actress Susan Saint James both shared how they learned to cope following the death of a child.
Saint James said she had the luxury of time to grieve with her husband and other children to grieve the death of her 14-year-old son, Teddy, but most people do not have that luxury.
Edwards said she could not change anything in her son's room until she had to remove his belonging because of a flood, which occurred 10 years after he died.
Saint James said she still talks to her son, seeing him always as the teenager he was when he left her.
Shriver pointed out there is no timetable for grief. "I find myself more emotional today," she said, talking about the loss of her mother, "than right after she died."
When she asked Niemi whether she considers herself a widow or still married to Swayze, Niemi hesitated, then said she's still both because she spent two-thirds of her life with him.
Some 14,000 women from all walks of life gathered in Long Beach for the conference. Invited attendees include more than 70 world opinion leaders, such as Sir Richard Branson, the founder and president of the Virgin Group; former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; Caroline Kennedy and Katie Couric.
Shriver says the goal of the Women's Conference is "to transform women inside and out -- and empower them to help transform the world as 'Architects of Change.'"
Other major events at the conference scheduled for Tuesday include a performance by Alicia Keyes during the "Minerva Awards," which honor women of distinction.
Tickets to the popular conference sold out in two hours. The event was available live online at californiawomen.org.
The conference was also being cable-cast on the California Channel, broadcast on Sirius XM Radio and being shown via satellite broadcasts at California community colleges and universities.