It is natural for the mind and soul to focus on pain. When something hurts, it draws our undivided attention. Be it a knee swelling from overuse on a hike, a migraine blocking our ability to complete a task, or the death of our child when we are in pain, physical or emotional, the mind focuses on it-intently. And the strong the pain the more intent the focus.
The mind seeks healing for the pain as well as understanding. A child’s death is difficult for the mind to comprehend then integrate into the greater storyline of our life. And until the mind can understand and integrate it will continue to focus on that pain. Rolling it around. Twisting it. Looking at it from all sides. And until we begin to move from “why did this happened” to “here’s how I choose to respond” the mind will continue to focus on the intense pain we are experiencing.
When people are ‘stuck’ in the WHY phase of healing, they will often ask, HOW do I find meaning in my child’s death (or the loss or losses that they have experienced). The problem here is that the emphasis is on the wrong “sa-lable”.
Aren’t we supposed to find meaning in our child’s death or any loss for that matter?
Simple answer: YOU ARE NOT!
Our child’s death is a horrible, unacceptable, event that is now historical. That event, their death, will always exist in the history of humanity and in our storyline. The focus of healing and finding meaning after a loss is NOT ABOUT WHY the event occued.
There is nothing that will make a child’s death “OK” or even remotely acceptable. That pain is chronic. We can only hope to “dull that pain” with on-going and life ling healing strategies that allow us to function.
Too many people, in the name of ‘healing’, try to find meaning in their child’s death or other significant losses when the focus needs to be on their healing, their actions, their response to the event, the crisis, the loss. Yes, we seek to understand (another word for ‘why’) because the mind is programmed to learn. We learn so that we avoid pain. When we are in pain, the mind is triggered to learn about why that pain occurred so that we can avoid “that bullshit” in the future. The “Life Lessons” we learn from loss is about learning not meaning. It’s about acquiring knowledge for he purpose of avoiding pain not finding solace or healing. Healing comes when me stop asking why and start doing.
In Existential Philosophy and the work of Viktor Frankl, a existential psychiatrist, the focus is on us and our suffering not the event that causes our suffering. Frankl discussed being in a concentration camp yet meaning, survival, overcoming that horror was based on his actions, choices, and response. So, if you are really searching for meaning after a significant loss, such as a child’s death or any loss, that search must be focused on you and your healing process. Most people, and it is understandable, miss this subtle yet vital point.
Let me keep it simple, if you want meaning/purpose in your life after a significant loss (divorce, job loss, medical diagnosis, bankruptcy, death of a loved one)… focus on to how you respond to the significant, painful, terrifying, and horrific event(s) of our life that drive both emotional and physical pain that plague our soul, body and minds.
If you have a headache and you respond by taking medication your suffering and pain may go away. It may not. And if it does not, you seek the assistance of a physician. Intuitively our body will heal. When we inadvertently cut our finger, the body begins a healing process. We intuitively bandage the cut, hopefully we have cleaned the cut before we bandage it. Or we seek medical attention. These are choices. These choices drive actions. This is how we respond to pain and being wounded. And, even when we act, we choose to respond to the pain and seeking and start healing, that pain may not go away instantaneously. Sometimes it lingers. So, we keep at the healing process until the pain subsides and/or we can function with the level of pain we experience.
In short…. finding meaning comes from choosing HOW you respond to the pain and reasons that the pain exists. Healing does not just show up on our doorstep one day, as the author alluded to. It’s the byproduct of work period it’s the byproduct of trial an error. Some things will bring about purpose and meaning as we go through our unique and personalized healing process while other things will fall far short of our expectations. Yet overtime, with consistent effort and attempt to respond to our pain, meaning, healing, growth and understanding slowly are integrated into our worldview and our life story leading two greater mental wellness.