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Finding Hope In Grief: A Mother Shares Her Story

Courtesy of Maurine Neiman
Maurine Neiman and her son, JJ.

Across the country and globe, people are grieving. That’s nothing new. People can experience terrible loss and tragedy at any time. But right now, loss is all around us. For Maurine Neiman and Bennett Brown of Iowa City, 2020 brought the worst kind of loss. Their son, JJ, died in February just before his third birthday. His death was categorized as sudden unexplained death in childhood. Until the day he died, JJ was a healthy, happy little boy.

Over the last several months, Neiman has learned a great deal about love, loss and joy, and about how all three can often happen in tandem. On this episode of Talk of Iowa, Neiman joins host Charity Nebbe to share the memory of her son, and her hopeful outlook as she walks through grief.

Credit Courtesy of Maurine Neiman
Following the death of her son, JJ (pictured above), Neiman says the support of her friends and family has provided ongoing and consistent comfort.

“The way that has been most comforting to me moving forward, is to try to make JJ’s life and death as meaningful as possible,” Neiman, an associate professor of biology at the University of Iowa, says. “My way of making meaning has seemed to really fit nicely within my paradigm as a scientist, which is to try to understand his death, and to try to use that understanding to help prevent those types of deaths in the future.”

Neiman emphasizes the importance of leaning on friends and family following a great loss, and encourages people to make themselves unobtrusively available to those who may be grieving.

“That’s what was most effective. To know people were there, but to not have to manage engaging with them if we didn’t want to,” she says. “So I think extending an invitation and then realizing that it may or may not be taken up at that time.”

For now, Maurine is looking forward. “I’m doing better,” she says. “But I know my life is never going to be the same, and I’m always going to miss him every second. But I’ve definitely felt like I can achieve joy again. And that is a tremendous reassurance.”

Later in the program, Barry Schreier, professor of counseling psychology at the University of Iowa discusses the many faces of grief and how to best manage grief during the COVID-19 pandemic. 


  • Maurine Neiman, Iowa City mother
  • Barry Schreier, director of University Counseling Service and professor of counseling psychology at the University of Iowa
Katelyn Harrop is a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa