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“One Day – an idea that will horrify you now – the misfortune will be a blessed
memory of a being who will never leave you.
But you are in a stage of unhappiness where it is impossible
for you to have faith in these reassurances.”
Last week, someone posted a question to my About page, questioning what I thought about the idea of “gifts” that come from loss. Essentially, this is an area that I tread lightly in… for the person who is in the depths of their grief, gifts, meanings, messages, life lessons, etc is something that I do not talk about at that time. I think it can almost be cruel… like when someone says to a grieving parent, “you’re young, you can have another…” I can think of nothing else that could be more injuring to the memory of the person who died or to the aching heart of the bereft person. And there have been times, where I can honestly say, yes, I’ve wanted to hit someone for foolish, hurtful words like these. And I have to remember that we are just so uncomfortable with our own pain but to be present to another’s pain is a thousand-fold worse for so many people.
I’ve thought a lot about this topic during the past week and posted a reply to this “sister” blogger last night… I am sure that she will not be the only person to bring up this topic and so I decided to post my response here. I am so grateful to her for asking her question and I hope that this will either comfort someone, help them understand another’s grief, or at the very least, get us thinking about our reactions to the grief of another person. So, here is my reply:
I do not believe that there is any inherent purpose to death. It is a function of being a human being and having these bodies that we do. I don’t think there is any more inherent purpose than I believe that there is any inherent meaning.
The existentialists were split into two camps about this very topic… there were those who believed that there was no meaning in the world and were nihilistic. There was another group who also did not believe that there was an inherent purpose, however, they did believe that we create our own meaning. In this second group, I think of Viktor Frankl. He once said, “For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” And this is how I see the losses we endure.
I don’t believe that there was “a” purpose to my brother’s death. There were three of us that were most affected by this loss and we all had different relationships to him and this loss. We each had to find our own meaning and purpose to live with this loss. I know that all three of us would prefer, in some ways that he was back in our lives, happily living. But he wasn’t happily living while he was here and through his dying, our lives were changed. And other people have been influenced by us. And if he was alive, he would not be healthy. Given that, I have to make sense out of this loss in order to live with it. That is where the purpose comes into the picture.
I know that many people who are bereft, especially parents of young children, hate hearing that there is a purpose to the death of the person who they loved. And I struggle when I hear people saying that to them. If we come to that place, in our own lives, over our own losses, then great. But I think we have to face that for most of us, if it was the choice between us gaining some gift (compassion, insight, greater love, etc.) and the person who we lost, I cannot think of anyone I have ever met that would choose the gift instead.
I also don’t think that finding meaning and purpose is a panacea or defense mechanism. I think that when we find meaning and purpose, if we do, that it helps to guide our lives. It gives us an ethic or viewpoint, a lens, that we see the world through and then act in accordance. I don’t think we use that as a way to deny the pain, though I suppose it could be. I think we have to find ways to re-create our lives and figure out how to live them without the physical presence the person we love because they are not coming back.
These are just the thoughts that have been swirling around in me for the past few days. They are influenced by my philosophical and spiritual ideas and my experiences. They are also informed by the hundreds of people who I worked with at hospice, those who seemed to struggle and soar after someone’s death and those that seemed to struggle for the rest of their lives.
May the merit of all the good we do go out into the world
and shine on all who are in need of light.
May the merit of our love
be an inspiration to all those who have never felt love.
- Frustration (griefsupportnh.wordpress.com)
- Common Reactions to Grief: Physical (namasteconsultinginc.com)
- Common Reactions to Grief: Behavior (namasteconsultinginc.com)
- Understanding Grief – A beginning… (namasteconsultinginc.com)
- The Meaning of Life (thedarkglobe.wordpress.com)
- Setting the Stage (namasteconsultinginc.com)
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