The Path to Finding New Meaning
The dust is beginning to settle after our loss and the horrible reality that our child has died is beginning to sink in. We realize it's not a nightmare, or something we are going to wake up from. It's real and devastating. Our child is not going to be here with us anymore. As much as we hate that reality, as unacceptable as that might feel, somehow we have to figure out a way to go on, to survive.
As we begin to take inventory of our loss, it is natural to find ourselves asking, "What is left for me here in this life? What meaning can my life have, without my child?" It's natural to feel like dying. We may have a wonderful life, a family and a job we loveâ¬"but it suddenly seems horribly diminished and hollow without our child. After all, they were a huge part of our life; sometimes, it feels like they were the only reason for living and now we're faced with a life without them. It feels like a cruel fate, not to ever see our child again. We are heartsick from our profound loss.
What possible meaning can life have now? We not only feel despair over the fact that our child's life has been lost, we are also experiencing the loss of meaning and purpose in our own lives.
The Path to Finding New Meaning
Finding meaning again can be a long and difficult process. One of the greatest challenges we will ever face is to not give up. Having experienced the worst, we're being asked to reach deep down inside ourselves to find strength to survive. Fighting on in the face of loss is an act of pure courage. Rediscovering one's purpose is a central part of healing. It is natural step for the lost, hopeless, angry and broken hearted. Wrestling with these feelings can give rise to new meaning, bringing newfound energy and the strength to go on. Eventually, it will bring us a new sense of purpose for living in life. Finding new meaning is different for each one of us and takes great faith and patience.
Here are the things to consider as you walk the path of grief toward new meaning:
1. Be patientâ¬"rediscovering meaning is a process. Some of us want to put it all back together at once. We want a quick fix to our grief. Who can blame us? But the reality is that we can't rush the process, it will take however long it takes.
2. Allow yourself to feel the despair, anger and sorrow. There's no way around grief, only through it. Allow the feelings of grief to wash over you and find constructive outlets for these feelings. In time, and with support, they will be less disabling and overwhelming. One day, out of the ashes may appear a fresh blade of grass.
3. Develop and hone your grief survival skills. This includes asking for and getting emotional support from others, lightening your schedule, talking to those you trust about your loss, avoiding people who drain you, and nourishing yourself with rest, healthy food and gentle exercise. Surviving is the first way to honor your childâ¬"it clears the path for new meaning.
4. Think of something you can do to love and honor your child. This could be as simple as lighting a candle or as complicated as starting a scholarship fund. Ask yourself how your child would want you to carry on. Let this be a deep expression of your love. Whatever it is you decide to do, don't let it take the place of telling them you love them every dayâ¬"and listening for their love. Love and honor are the seeds of new meaning.
5. Notice the simple blessings in your life. Finding new purpose often starts with taking inventory of some of the blessings that remain, or have been born, in your life. They may be related to your family, friends, good health, having a roof over your head or the gift of having had our child as long as we did.
6. Reap the life lessons of grief. There are things we realize on this dark journey of grief. We call them life lessons. Some call them "dark gifts." What life lessons and dark gifts have you encountered on the path of grief? Are you more compassionate, more patient? Less judgmental of people who are down on their luck? More direct and honest? Have you reordered your priorities? Do you show greater appreciation for the people in your life? Do you tell people you love them a little quicker and more often?
7. Consider the possibilities. Sit down, take out a piece of paper and complete one or both of these questions: "What would give my life meaning would beâ¬Â¦" or "My family, including my child, would be proud of me forâ¬Â¦"
8. Apply the lessons your child taught you. Our children are our teachers. We can find meaning in our lives by applying the things they taught us, what they stood for, who they were and who they are to us now. These are their gifts to us. As one parent explained, "my son taught me what love really means, to work to live, not live to work, and that life is about people, not things. I am now living those lessons."
Your journey is not yet finished. There is more to do and more to be revealed. And hopefully, a reason for you to go on, not just take up spaceâ¬"but to nurture your soul and, in so doing, leave the world a better place. We would want the same of our children if they were left without us.
Cultivating a new sense of meaning and purpose is something that grows in you as you slowly fight your way back into life. It's not something that happens after healing a broken heart; rather it comes from the very heart of our brokenness, almost always in the form of love. Daring to care, to love again, in the face of loss is the key to finding meaning in our new lives.