Searching for meaning when a loved one dies

Searching for meaning when a loved one dies

Meaning affects everything we do; and just as importantly, it affects the body, as evidenced by the many examples of mind-body relationships such as the placebo effect. Finding meaning in death is not always easy, and sometimes it is hard to find.

However, searching for meaning when a loved one dies can change the way you deal with your loss and reinvest in life. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, put it this way: “Meaning makes many things tolerable – perhaps everything.”

Searching for meaning is futile at the beginning of your grief; first give yourself time to express an emotion and review the relationship. Ultimately, make every effort to find meaning in your loss. Here are seven considerations that have given meaning to 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 that there is a spirit world and an afterlife. A near-death experience (NDE) has occurred to over 8 million people who report walking through a tunnel, seeing others who have died before them, and a beautiful white light.

Others who have mourned the death of a loved one have had dreams, visions, and various synchronic and symbolic events called Extraordinary Experiences (EEs). These events provided them with comfort and enough evidence to believe that their loved ones were living in another existence. This had a major impact on the course of their grief work.

2. Meaning derived from celebrating the life lived. This may include dedications, memorials, carrying on a particular tradition, or doing volunteer work in honor of the deceased. Some survivors have started support groups or supported the recently 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 comfort in their belief that their loved ones are in heaven with God. In addition, many embrace the doctrine of the Communion of Saints, where they can pray to their loved ones and ask them to intercede with God for them.

4. Meaning derived from the belief that love never dies. Many who receive contact from a deceased loved one or divine being interpret it as an act of love. Their love for the deceased continues as they reinvest in life and establish a new, healthy but different relationship. Feeling loved and giving love when you hurt is an underused but very effective coping tool.

5. Meaning derived from the belief that one day there will be a meeting with the deceased. Those who believe in an afterlife, heaven, or receive EE are often convinced that they will see their loved one again when they die. They have no fear of death and reinvest their energy in their present life.

6. Meaning derived from the belief that the loved one still provides comfort, care and support. “Even in death he/she continues to give and care,” is the thought of many who feel the presence of their loved one when they are grieving. This is a profound role model.

7. Meaning derived from the belief that the deceased is whole and healthy in a different existence. Many of the post-death contacts that the bereaved experience show that the loved one is whole and healthy again. They are grateful that their loved one is no longer in pain.

Clearly, there are many, many more ways in which individual mourners find meaning in the death of their loved ones, which helps them integrate their losses into their lives. Much depends on personal beliefs, the nature of the relationship with the deceased and the manner of death. The search for meaning is an important part of grief work for most and often becomes a time when we are open to reexamining our worldviews and beliefs about life and death.

Sometimes trying to find meaning in death seems fruitless. For example, how do you find meaning in the death of a four-month-old child (it happened to me)? Eventually I was able to come to terms with it. Still, searching for the cause of the experience and making sense of it with a trusted friend or relative is helpful. We need others at this time to be with us when we hurt. Look for the right person as you try to make sense of your loss.

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