Finding Meaning After Loss: A Journey of Healing

As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, Catholic Charities is posting a series of blogs dedicated to promoting overall mental health and awareness. This post is written by Janice MacKenzie, a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker with CCNH’s Mental Health Services.

Most people have experienced some type of loss or perhaps multiple losses that have led them onto the path of grief. Grieving can feel like being on a roller coaster, experiencing a multitude of emotions and the process is often very different from what most people anticipate. Depending upon how traumatic the loss is, grieving never really ends. Although the intensity of pain and emotions decrease over time and for some individuals fully resolve, it is a lifetime journey that changes us in some ways from the loss.

In 1969, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist, described the five stages of grief that we experience in response to a loss:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Although these stages are not linear and not all people experience all five, these do reflect our very natural psychological response to different types of loss (i.e., death of a loved one, divorce, trauma, disability). As we work through these stages, we can experience a variety of symptoms including but not limited to sadness, anxiety, frustration, confusion, guilt, fatigue, anger, sleep and eating problems, flat or numb feeling, brain fog, isolation, physical symptoms, hopelessness, and questioning our purpose in life.

As a therapist, I have worked with many clients over the years who sought counseling to help them work through this often difficult and confusing process of grief. What I have often found is that people can work through these stages toward acceptance of their loss, but they are sometimes left feeling lost and asking questions like “Okay, so where do I go from here?” and “How do I find meaning in my life?” after the loss.

In David Kessler’s book “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief,” he encourages anyone who is grieving to answer this question “Where am I trying to find meaning? In the death, the loss, the event? The life of the person I loved? Or am I trying to find meaning in my own life after the loss?”

The reality is that we can find meaning in any or all of the above. Research indicates that individuals who are grieving and can find some meaning in their loss are less likely to get stuck in one or more stages of grief for longer periods of time.

Finding meaning from the loss leads you to deeper questions and deeper answers. But there are ways to find meaning in positive ways. For example:

  • Celebrating a deceased loved one’s life through creating new family traditions or rituals that bring a time of remembrance.
  • The loss of a loved one bringing other family members or friends closer together.
  • Loss teaching someone the importance of living mindfully and not taking life or loved ones for granted.
  • In the different connections or relationships formed after the loss.
  • A passion to give back to others in society or work for an important cause, in memory of your loved one.
  • A heightened sense of awareness to change priorities, practice gratitude or change the way you live your life, after the loss.

It is important to remember that avoiding the grief process only delays the healing process and the opportunity to find meaning. If you or a loved one is experiencing grief (from any number of life events) please don’t hesitate to reach out for help through professional counseling, connecting with a grief support group or talking with your priest or pastor, or perhaps a loved one or friend who has been walking on the path of grief and understands your pain.

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