GRIEF: FINDING MEANING TO HEAL
Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief
Jane E. Brody writes in the New York Times that David Kessler, a grief expert, found himself facing the sudden death of his 21-year-old son. One of the results of this experience in his new book, “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief”, writing: “meaning comes through finding a way to sustain your love for the person after their death while you’re moving forward with your life. Loss is simply what happens to you in life. Meaning is what you make happen.”
Five stages of grief
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, immortalized in 1969 what she called the “five stages of grief” in her bestseller “On Death and Dying.” Mr. Kessler partnered with her in 2004 to write her second bestseller, “On Grief and Grieving,” discussing how we deal with those five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. Mr Kessler couldn’t stop at acceptance, and finally came to conclude that the next step is: meaning, which he characterizes as the sixth stage of grieving, where real healing takes place.
People find meaning in many ways: recalling memories of lost ones; believing in the afterlife; some write poetry or produce other works of art; many families take comfort in donating the organs of their lost loved one to save lives; still others turn their loss into a vocation to help others survive – or prevent – a similar loss.
Still, the grieving process needs to take place, and finding meaning cannot eliminate that need; but it can ease the pain somewhat and make it possible to find one’s way back to one’s life.
For some, losing a child or pet make them reluctant to have another for fear of experiencing another painful loss. Yet it can be just this decision to courageously create a better life for a child or animal in suffering than they would have had otherwise; at least some have found it to be so.
Brody notes that death by suicide is one of the most difficult losses to cope with. Grieving families and loved ones are accorded much less support, generally speaking, than if the death is by illness or an accident. The thought is often that suicide is a death one chooses and therefore less worthy of mourning – although the loss is no less difficult for the survivors; indeed, often a sense of guilt (why did I not see this coming, why did I not prevent this?) can often deepen the pain.
Yet suicide is usually a result of a serious mental disorder – Brody refers to “Stage IV brain disease” – and is therefore no less worthy of compassion than any other reason. Those close to someone who has committed suicide can sometimes find meaning in volunteering for suicide prevention or suicide warning signs awareness programs.