Meaning-Making After Loss

We tackled the unanswerable question of why, then the existential crisis that comes with facing mortality, which leaves us with, “what’s it all for?”

When we suffer, like when we’re experiencing grief, we’d like to think that there’s a reason for all of this pain. We think, “there has to be some purpose to me going through this,” and we can’t help but seek out that reason. It may not be possible to get a definitive answer on why the person we love died, but it is within our power to create meaning out of our loss.

Before an important loss we have a comfortable, secure sense of “meaning” in our lives. This meaning is closely tied to our identity. We have a general idea of how the world works, and most of what we experience fits acceptably into that world. When someone important to us dies, it challenges our world, our identity, our meaning. So the first part of meaning-making involves reconstructing your own meaning and figuring out who you are now, after loss.

Meaning-Making after loss
Lemons into Lemonade

Meaning-making also includes overcoming the space between what you believe happened (how you’re probably feeling now—they died and you miss them) and what you desire to have happened (being able to look at the loss more favorably, this bad thing happened so that this good thing could happen). It’s sounds simple, but it’s a powerful and challenging concept.

Meaning-making can take you from a place where all you see is the bad that comes from loss (and there can be a whole lot of bad and that’s okay) to a place where you can start to see the good. That’s not to say that once you’ve made meaning of the loss that you’ll no longer be emotionally upset by it, but rather that your perspective on the loss will have shifted.

The meaning you make could take form as:

  • A broader world view
  • Stronger family bonds
  • Severing harmful relationships
  • Stronger spirituality
  • Helping other families in need
  • Learning a new skill
  • Discovering unknown personal strength
  • Pursuing new personal health goals
  • Volunteering for a cause important to your lost loved one
  • Starting a foundation or scholarship & creating a legacy

Perspective shifts don’t usually happen overnight, so it’s worth keeping your eyes open for opportunities to begin making meaning of your loss, when you are able, in small, everyday ways.


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