By Louis LaGrand, Ph.D.
Meaning affects everything we do; and equally important it affects the body and its physiology as attested to by the many examples of body-mind relationships, such as the placebo effect. Finding meaning in death is not always easy, and sometimes it is hard to find.
However, the search for meaning when a loved one dies can make a big difference in how you cope with your loss and reinvest in life. The Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, put it this way, “Meaning makes a great many things endurable—perhaps everything.”
Searching for meaning is useless early in your grief; first, give yourself much time to express emotion and review the relationship. Eventually, make every effort to find meaning in your loss. Here are seven considerations that have provided meaning for others after the death of a loved one, and that may help you in your own search.
1. Meaning derived from the belief that there is a spirit world. Many people have reported experiences that have convinced them there is a spirit world and an afterlife. The Near-Death Experience (NDE) has occurred to over 8 million people who report going through a tunnel, seeing others who have predeceased them, and a beautiful white light.
Others, who were mourning the death of a loved one, have experienced dreams, visions, and various synchronistic and symbolic events, called Extraordinary Experiences (EEs). These events provided comfort and enough evidence for them to believe their loved ones live on in another existence. This had great influence on the course of their grief work.
2. Meaning derived from celebration of the life that was lived. This may include dedications, memorializations, carrying on a particular tradition, or doing volunteer work in honor of the deceased. Some survivors have started support groups, or supported the newly bereaved in their community depending on their needs.
3. Meaning derived from the belief that there is a heaven and a hell. Many people who are grieving find solace in their beliefs that their loved ones are in heaven with God. Also, many embrace the doctrine of the Communion of Saints, where they can pray to their loved ones, and ask them to intercede to God for them.
4. Meaning derived from the belief that love never dies. Many who receive a contact from a deceased loved one or a divine being interpret it as an act of love. Their love for the deceased continues on as they reinvest in life and establish a new, healthy, but different relationship. To feel loved and to give love when hurting is a little utilized but highly effective coping tool.
5. Meaning derived from the belief that there will some day be a reunion with the deceased. Those who believe in an afterlife, heaven, or receive an EE, are often convinced they will see their loved one again when they die. They have no fear of death, and reinvest their energies in their present life.
6. Meaning derived from the belief that the loved one is still giving comfort, caring, and providing support. “Even in death he/she is still giving and caring,” is the thought of many who sense the presence of their loved one when mourning. This is a profound example for them to emulate. Would your beloved want you to be loving and bring joy into someone else’s life?
7. Meaning derived from the belief that the deceased is whole and healthy in a different existence. Many of the after death contacts that the bereaved experience show the loved one whole and healthy again. They are grateful that the beloved is no longer in pain.
Obviously, there are many, many more ways that individual mourners find meaning in the death of their loved ones, which helps them integrate their losses into their lives. Much depends on the personal beliefs, nature of the relationship with the deceased, and mode of death. The search for meaning is an important part of grief work for most, and it frequently becomes a time when we are open to revising our world views and beliefs about life and death.
Sometimes trying to make sense out of the death seems fruitless. For example, how do you find meaning in the death of four-month-old child (this happened to me)? I eventually was able to come to terms with it. Still, searching for the cause of the experience and pulling meaning from it with a trusted friend or relative is useful. We need others at this time to be with us when we are in pain.
Dr. LaGrand is a grief counselor and the author of eight books, the most recent, Love Lives On: Learning from the Extraordinary Encounters of the Bereaved. He is known world-wide for his research on the Extraordinary Experiences of the bereaved (after-death communication phenomena), gives workshops and speaks throughout the US, and is one of the founders of Hospice of the St. Lawrence Valley, Inc. His website is http://www.extraordinarygriefexperiences.com .
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