How do I find meaning in my grief?
July 14th, 2020
This was a really tough one for me when I first heard about meaning-making. Early in my grief, I got very angry. I thought that it meant I had to make meaning of my husband's death, which I couldn't do. It just didn't make sense. I am a widow. And the idea that my husband should die when he's 50 just really did not make any sense. I couldn't find any meaning in that at all. But slowly, I've come to understand that finding meaning within my grief is my ability to respond to it, to experience its devastating pain and its richness.
And that's where I discovered meaning in my own life. What I choose to do with my grief and how I choose to live, not in spite of his death, but because of who he was when he was alive, and because of our relationship. This is where I find the meaning and find out ways to keep connected to him no matter what I do in my life now, and to continue to experience the love, and also to turn my grief into feeling like I'm more compassionate to myself and to others. That's the way I do it.
July 15th, 2020
In my experience and research, meaning is something that emerges over time. We might try to impose meaning on a death soon after it happens, but we need time to see how that death will set a chain of events in motion that will eventually lead to other things in our lives. My mother died when I was 17. Because she died, I wrote a book and because I wrote this book, I started a nonprofit. Because I started a nonprofit, I needed office space, and I rented office space from two guys in Manhattan, who had space in their office to sublease. I ended up dating and marrying one of those men and having two daughters. So, I can say that my daughters exist because my mom died when I was 17. But it took me 16 years to realize that that was some of the meaning that would come from a devastating loss in my adolescence.
July 21st, 2020
Grief can be understood not only as a feeling and emotion, but as a skill. It is a kind of muscle that's needed to walk through life and to engage with all of the dimensions of a fully lived life. The joys and the sorrow, the loves and the heartbreak. One of the strongest redemptive aspects of engaging with grief is building that skill.
One of the legacies of going through the death of a loved one may be that those who grieve that loved one thoroughly and well can be sturdier. They may be able to serve life going forward with stronger capacities to really embrace the whole of beauty and devastation.
Finding meaning in grief often is a recognition that the depth of one's grief really matches the depth of the love. It's another form of embracing, valuing and praising that which has moved into another form through death. Everybody will find meaning in an individualistic society in their own way. Cultures that have stronger collective orientations to every rite of passage, including marking the death of a loved one, don't invent meaning themselves, they find meaning through engaging in the cultural practices that help to embody the story of where the loved one has gone, of how that loved one's life and death are interconnected with the fabric of the rest of the community.
In our culture it is sometimes a lonely individual project to find meaning in one's grief. Sometimes it's a solitary project that's not lonely; it can feel very sacred to go deep or find practices on one's own from the grief that's being experienced. I hope that we're increasingly able to lean on each other more in grief.
The poet John Donoghue refers to "the space between us." We can often find meaning in the space between us if we turn to each other to collectively build this muscle, in this scale of grief, in these times.