Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Meaning and Purpose

When I first began studying grief, I learned about a model called “meaning-making.”  At first this angered me because I did not think that I could come up with a meaning for Alby's death. It made no sense that he left us in the middle of our lives together.  I also felt that my own life had lost its meaning, even though the work I was engaged in continued and even ramped up since I was now trying to complete it alone.  I puzzled over the idea of meaning for a long time.

Dr. Robert Neimeyer, an influential leader in grief counseling and therapy, talks about meaning making as a way to rebuild your life after loss.  In the reconstruction model of grief counseling, the story becomes a pathway to transformation. By telling the story of the loss and of the relationship, you can find points of connection. Through the narrative, you might discover new activities, new passions. As I worked through my own story of loss, I slowly understood that by living a meaningful life, I would discover its new purpose.  By finding connections from our relationship, I continue to bring him forward into my life now.  In other words, the meaning in my life moves through our shared story and finds purpose in the stories I am creating and the work I do in my life now. In other words, there was no meaning in his death but I can make meaning in my own life, afterwards.

Many of my clients talk about a loss of purpose.  One young woman feels that it is important to focus on her purpose now that her shared plans with her boyfriend will not come about. Even as she cries, she seeks meaning in a penny on the ground, a hawk in the sky. She visits places they intended to go together and looks towards finding a more satisfying job to enhance her career, as if she is being invisibly encouraged by him. An older woman struggles to find meaning in other parts of her life besides her work which, although it gives her a true sense of purpose, does not supply enough meaning to fill the hole left by her husband. She seeks connection with her adult children, in remembrance of their loved one. A mother, mourning the sudden death of her daughter, searches for purpose now that she no longer has this child to guide. It will take her a while to rekindle any sense of meaning after this death. A young man, struggling with issues of growing up, leaving childhood friends and bad habits behind, longs to create a meaningful career to shape himself as an adult.

It's a common theme although we each have our own unique story to tell. Listen to these stories that you tell yourself and others. Notice where the connections are. Notice your own themes and see if they will lead you to a new sense of purpose.
How have you rediscovered meaning and purpose after death or a difficult transition? Leave me a message - I'd love to read your response.

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