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Emilia Clarke Shares What Her Near-Death Experiences & Grieving Her Father Taught Her

After a near-death experience following two brain aneurisms in 2011, Emilia Clarke said she experienced a total reevaluation of what she values. Paired with the grieving process over the death of her father (who died from cancer in 2016), the Game of Thrones star shares that she felt a total transformation — something she’s still experiencing (and getting a better understanding of) during the global pandemic.

“The thing we’re not talking about is death — and when you personally come very close to dying, which I did twice, it brings in to light a conversation you have with yourself that goes to the tune of appreciation for what you do have, thanks for the people in your life that are here,” Clarke said on Thursday, in an interview with Time100 celebrating their 2020 list by interviewing 2019 honorees (including Clarke). “Losing my dad was perhaps the most profound thing that has ever happened to me and understanding that, wrapping your head around it, has counterintuitively opened my mind in some way. In a way, when you truly understand and feel grief —which is what we’re all experiencing right now in a global pandemic, we’re all experiencing a collective grief…because grief can come in many different forms, it isn’t necessarily the death of a human or the death of someone you love, it can be the death of a life you thought you had forever. I think that understanding that grief inherently makes you empathetic to others. … you have an innate, greater understanding of the fragility of life.”

Clarke went on to share that her near-death experiences motivated her to start her charity SameYou, which works to help people in the long, difficult process of recovering. She noted that the pandemic — which led to many patients being discharged early or less able to access rehabilitation care — has given her organization more work to do in closing the gaps in care and offering the support they can to these patients who are embarking on these recovery journeys during unprecedented, lonely and difficult times.

“Essentially, what I found through my experiences with brain injury is that, if you’re luckily enough to survive the life-saving surgery — which obviously I was both times — if you’re lucky enough to have that, the thing that doesn’t get spoken about, the thing that’s ignored most, is the recovery after that,” Clarke said. “It’s there where people get lost and its there where you’re actually embarking on the hardest part of your journey and at the point where you feel the most physically and emotionally not able to deal with it.”

So to have that hard part disrupted by a pandemic that needs all-hands on deck in the healthcare space? Clarke said her “heart was bleeding for all the people who didn’t get what [she] was able to get: support.” And that it inspired her organization work to help create virtual clinics that do what they can (while understanding there’s no real substitute for IRL human interaction) to give that support and sense of community to these survivors.

“We’ve all been feeling desperate and alone and frightened and scared,” she said. “But having a brain injury, you already feel those things.”

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