Everyone has trouble tolerating meaningless suffering. Yet it can be really hard to imagine a reason for loss, tragedy, or struggle. Here is a list of questions that can help illuminate the meaning in difficult situations.
These thought prompts are not original; they come from various web sites, books, and conversations over the years. If you keep a journal, you might write your responses there. Or just contemplate whatever comes up when you read each question. Your thoughts may change and develop over time, so don't hesitate to occasionally revisit the list.
1. Is there meaning in this loss?
During my most agonizingly bereft moments, I just couldn't accept that David was gone in a split second for no apparent reason. I eventually decided to create a meaning that worked for me. As individuals, we get to choose our own.
2. What lessons can be learned from this experience?
Whenever something negative happens, I always ask myself what I can learn from it. Sometimes the answer is obvious and other times I have to make up something. But it always requires a certain amount of self-reflection that is ultimately beneficial.
3. What self discoveries am I making?
This kind of inquiry can reveal so many things about ourselves: how we tend to function under adverse conditions, how we relate to others, or what effect this is having on mood, thoughts, energy, and behavior. It's important to notice the Self.
4. What personal qualities have been strengthened?
Perhaps there's something in your make-up that has been quietly in the background until now...something that has responded to a call to action of sorts. Maybe it's tenacity, appreciation, gentleness, or a host of other possibilities. Look carefully.
5. What strengths can I identify that were not apparent before?
Even though I would never choose such a loss, I do recognize now a certain resilience that I never would have thought possible. It was cultivated through trial and error, but it's now mine forever. What new strengths are you noticing?
6. What is becoming of the person I used to be?
We all evolve over time, and sometimes life transitions hasten that evolution. Sometimes we have no choice but to change, and it's important to honor our past selves before we let them go.
7. Who am I now?
This is a big question and not always easy to answer. Take your time. I had to add "bereaved mother" to my response, and at first it was my only focus. In time I could broaden my answer to include all my other aspects as well.
8. What was important to me before this loss compared to what is important now?
Have certain longings and stressors faded into the background? Or are there people and things you took for granted that are now at the top of your list? Think about the difference in what's important to you now.
9. How has this experience impacted my values and/or spiritual beliefs?
Most of us don't talk about these thoughts very often, but this may be the perfect time to consider them. Keep an open mind as you reflect on your views. Again, don't be surprised if this continues to evolve.
10. Do I see the world any differently now?
Life experience certainly can change our outlook so it makes sense to contemplate how recent challenges may have altered our perception. It may be a subtle shift, a global transformation, or something in between.
I hope these questions stimulate your thoughts. Please don't hesitate to stay in touch and let me know about your own quest for meaning.
Essays on Grief Resilience