Finding a sense of meaning after loss

Do you roll your eyes when you hear someone say there is a reason for everything? Or worse, like me, you want to punch them for a Successory poster philosophy. How can this platitude possibly give hope to someone who has lost a child? Faced the aftermath of a suicide or the numerous other tragedies we endure just by being human? Yet, it is offered often and earnestly for the most pure of reasons-a way to make sense of the unbearable both for the statement giver and the intended receiver. And given my skepticism, it is something I desperately want to understand.

I easily slip into a random chaos world view in which your best bet is risk management. A place where hopefully the successes out number the set-backs, failures or bad luck. And by “hope” I really mean trying to micromanage the universe. What could possibly go wrong with that? This is when I envy people who have unwavering faith.

For a person like me, who wants meaning and purpose, it’s unnerving to live in a cosmic crap shoot. It started with my very first sentence , “but why?” repeated often and loudly. My poor exasperated parents. This I have not outgrown.

Bruce did believe it. Or at least he seemed to. It was his go to saying. From the dishwasher flooding the kitchen to closing our business, he would say, “Everything happens for a reason Rebecca.” Normally I would snort and give my “whatever” flick to his arm. Impending death changed the stakes.

My incessant need for fixed answers increases proportionally to his declining health. Yet Bruce remained steadfast in his resolve. Did the one dying from cancer have more faith in a grand scheme then me, the healthy person with a future? I began to wonder if it was acceptance on his part or just passing on the responsibility for life decisions. I am angry and scared, so I choose the latter. “What kind of answer is that?” I counter. How do I find bravery and strength in something sounding like a Hallmark Card? And yes, I wanted to sock a him, a sick person.

What I need desperately is a life line of certainty. Be specific. Allay my fear. Sell the Plano house or keep it? Stay with my current company where I’m unhappy but safe or take a job offer from a Dallas Design firm? He is tired. I know I am exhausting. Wearily he takes my hand and tells me I will know what to do when the time comes but he also adds, “If I was you Rebecca, I would go back home.” That’s the answer? The reason for 2 years of upheaval? To just go home? My pride only hears this as defeat even though he has given me exactly what I asked for.

The days leading up to his death I quiet my panic to be present. This is about him. As I watch Bruce slowly silently leave this life, I don’t know if he found faith, possibly, but surely there is acceptance. And courage. It shows me I am wrong. He hadn’t passed on the responsibility for my future, how could he? It was always up to me.

Even understanding this deep down, I am one stubborn woman. I dogged him even in death. It starts with begging for dreams-one’s in which Bruce will magically show me the way. Next, it’s signs. I scan the skies. Listen to songs. Smell his clothes. A dead dragonfly. A live cardinal. It doesn’t matter. I am searching for anything to give me a clue about what to do.

Three weeks after his death, I go to a gift shop in Plano to buy hostess gifts for the Kansas City friend’s hosting Bruce’s Celebration of Life. I settle on bracelets and carefully match the worded charms to each friend’s personality. Here, finally are messages I can understand. But it is strange to read positive affirmations as I contemplate my many failures. Our move to Texas to start over. The efforts to save my husband. The time I spent on a failing business. Even as I lightly trace the perfect metal circles, I reject the metaphor already forming in my mind.

The next day I return to the store. I have miscounted my hostess gifts by one. Going through the same bin, a gold bracelet catches my eye. The charm reads “Everything happens for a reason.” Are you kidding me? I shake it at the young woman behind the counter so the charm jiggles, “Was this here yesterday?” I ask almost angrily. She studies it and says, “That’s weird, we only carry the silver ones. I have no idea how that got in there?” She seems nervous when I laugh. Shocked when I buy it. And relieved when my card is accepted, I put it on my wrist and wear it out of her shop.

Three nights later, the bracelet bounces on the paper as I read the eulogy- one I have carefully crafted to honor Bruce while making myself sound like a brave warrior forging a new better life in Dallas. In my words I am the star of my own Life Time movie. I stop my speech in front of 80 family and dearest friends. I realize with humility I am lying. Not about him. About me.

I don’t need a hidden message to tell me I need help-that I am alone and floundering. The only sign showing me the way is one I made for the service-it says “Aloha.” No spirit whispers in my ear of magical comfort. “We love you,” I hear this from the living. So I fold my paper and stop my speech to join them. Before the night is over, dancing in a conga line with my tribe, I know I will move home. I have no plan greater than that but it will be fine. I will be fine.

Does “Everything Happen for a Reason?” I still don’t know. Being human means we will experience sadness, pain, and things which will never make sense. I head back to Texas reliving the celebration of life. It is 8 hours to think. It dawns on me it is “Reason” where I failed. I was stuck on the cause/effect definition. But it may be something else-I know this now. It is the meaning we give the events which happen in our lives. I look at my bracelet and smile. There is only one reason I need or ever needed. Love. Simple. Beautiful. Eternal and vast. Just like the Konza Prairie I drive through with home becoming smaller in my rear view mirror….for now.

6 Replies to “Finding a sense of meaning after loss”

  1. Beautifully written. I understand as I am where you were in searching and getting angry when people tell me “everything happens for a reason. You’ll see and will be so glad for it later.” I don’t want to hear those words, even though I know they are true, I don’t want them to be true right now.
    You are an inspiration and give me hope as I contemplate and search for signs as to where I will land next.


  2. I love these words pouring out of you so eloquently Rebecca. I wish I could do the same. My brother committed suicide 10 years ago, and my sister and I found out a year and a half later on the internet. He left a parentless teenage son with Asperger’s alone wandering the world. We have never found my nephew, never had a funeral for my brother, never had closure. At times my sis and I make peace and move on, then the black hole rages back. But, we move on as we must.


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