2020 - November - Gazette - Searching for Meaning
Searching for Meaning
Experts who study grief suggest that people who are grieving have a need to search for meaning. Meaning helps them understand the nature of their grief - the what, why, when and how. With everything going on in our country right now, I see grief and the suffering it can cause all around. Racial injustice, the pandemic, natural disasters, job losses, the political divide, are just a few of the sources of this grief. And I wonder, is there any meaning in all of this?
Last winter, I went on a personal retreat and spent time reading and reflecting on the book A Retreat with Job and Julian of Norwich: Trusting that All Will Be Well by Carol Luebering. Part of a series of “A Retreat with” books, this title provides insights using Job, he of the biblical book that bears his name, and Julian of Norwich, she being the 14th century Christian mystic who is credited with being the first woman to write an English book.
It was Julian’s story that interested me. She spent many years providing spiritual counsel to people who visited her small cell attached to St. Julian Church in Norwich, England. The people Julian counseled were suffering greatly – this was a time of horrible plagues, famine and poverty. Throughout all this suffering though, Julian’s message was hopeful.
Since then I’ve continued to learn many things from Julian, some of which speak to the search for meaning in the suffering we’re seeing now. Julian shows us that the meaning in and reasons for suffering are two very different things.
For example, healthcare workers who get the coronavirus might find meaning in it because they were helping others and serving the common good. But there might not be any reason for their suffering that provides comfort to them.
A frequently used saying is, “Everything happens for a reason.” One reason often proposed for bad things that happen is that suffering teaches. Author and aviator Anne Morrow Lindbergh knew suffering - her 20-month-old son was kidnapped and murdered. Here is how she framed it:
I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable. All these and other factors combined, if the circumstances are right, can teach and can lead to rebirth.
Julian shows us that it’s a misuse of any meaning we do find in suffering to try to force that meaning on others. Everyone must come to their own answers regarding this meaning - even though they don’t need to do it alone.
Julian also shows us that it’s a misuse of any meaning we do find in suffering to use it to deny our grief or abandon others in theirs. Grief is our natural reaction to loss and finding meaning in the suffering doesn’t mean we will eliminate the grief. When I talk to people who have lost loved ones, they say they’d much rather have their loved ones back than to have found meaning in the loss.
And Julian shows us how to meet everything in our world from what is deep within. As she wrote in her Revelations of Divine Love: “Peace and love are always in us, being and working, but we are not always in peace and love.”
When I consider these lessons from Julian, I realize we can search for meaning in our circumstances today and be with others in their grief as they search for their own. Plus, we can meet the grief and suffering from a place of peace and love to see how it leads us to act.
As part of that effort and in conjunction with Koch Funeral Home, I facilitate outreach programs where people do their own searches for meaning. “Searching for Meaning” is actually the theme at our next Monday’s Moments Virtual Gathering on Monday, December 7 from noon to 1:30 p.m. This gathering is for anyone who has lost a loved one. We come together online, share pieces of our stories, learn a little about what the grief journey can look like and mostly learn that we’re not alone. If you would like to attend, please RSVP by Thursday, December 3.
Another upcoming gathering is the virtual Death Café. This is a time to talk about death in order to live fully now. We have no themes or agendas and discuss topics generated by the group. This is not a grief support or counseling session.
In addition to the gatherings, Koch Funeral Home is happy to be finding meaning by partnering with Footprints in the Field to help create a Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Garden. We invite you to join us in this initiative. To get more information, visit the Facebook page @FootprintsintheField and to financially support the Garden, go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/footprints-in-the-field.
To learn more about all of these efforts, please visit the Koch Funeral Home website. And to reserve your spot and receive the program invitation links, please email Jackie@JackieHook.com, call 814-404-0546 or visit the Koch Funeral Home Facebook page, @kochFH.
As you navigate your own search for meaning, remember the following words from David Kessler in his book Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief: “All of us get broken in some way. What matters is how we get up and put the pieces back together again.”
Jackie Naginey Hook, MA, is a spiritual director, celebrant and end-of-life doula. She coordinates the Helping Grieving Hearts Heal program through Koch Funeral Home in State College. For more information, please call 814-237-2712 or visit www.kochfuneralhome.com.