Finding purpose…what a very big and very grand idea, and one that we may not spend a lot of time exploring prior to loss. Perhaps because when life is “good” our purpose is pretty clear. While it may not be glamorous, or something worthy of history remembering our name, most people are finding purpose in their day-to-day lives, even if they’re not looking for it. Going to work, raising a family, finding involvement within church and community, even a hobby or past time can plan our days and fill our lives and give us direction, along with the “why” we’re getting up and out of bed each day.
When writing about loss, it’s always a good idea to be mindful of how different grievers can be. Different backgrounds, different supports, different styles of coping. What’s also very different is how far along in their grieving someone may be, and how ready they are to accept help and ideas as they’re offered. In the beginning, with the shock and numbness of loss it can be hard to see beyond the thick fog of grief and immediate pain.
This writing is for those who may be a little further along. The timeline doesn’t matter so much as the feeling. And when a griever gets there, they’ll know it. While always sad in some way, always missing their loved one and always grieving, there does come a time for most when they feel ready for the next step.
The problem is knowing what that next step is.
Sure, work and family and other commitments will still be there, but trying to step back into the same old life just won’t work for most. With this very special person gone, nothing quite looks the same, and we feel very different along with it.
Finding purpose can be a very healthy and positive step in the right direction for a griever. In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Viktor Frankl talks about the happiness we all think we’re looking for. In the foreword for this book, Howard S. Kushner writes, “Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure…but a quest for meaning.” According to him, Frankl’s three possible sources of meaning are, “in work, in love, and in courage during difficult times”.
It reminds me of what a widow once said to me. When I asked how she was coping after the loss of her spouse she told me that everyone needs, “someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to”. Focusing on what she had and finding purpose were the only things getting her through the difficult days of grief.
So maybe a goal to be happy again after loss doesn’t sound realistic, but what about finding purpose? As potentially idealistic as it may sound, it may be as simple as asking, “what’s going to get me out of bed today?”
It’s not easy. Some may ask, what purpose could there possibly be, and what else could ever be worthy of the time and attention once put into a person loved and lost, and how could it ever provide the same satisfaction or fulfillment once found in being a parent, partner, child, sibling, friend or grandchild?
And so here’s the challenge.
First, decide that you actually want to move forward and that you’re ready to see what might come next. Like a lot of things, this first step is the hardest. While most people would say they’re tired of being sad all the time and they’re ready for a change, most would be surprised to know how hard moving forward can be. And it’s not always for the reasons you’d think.
For some, moving forward may feel like leaving their loved one in the past. It may feel disloyal, or some grievers may worry if they’re not actively grieving it means they’re not actively expressing their love either. The dark place of grief can become a surprisingly comfortable and familiar place to be. Moving beyond it can feel like a step into the unknown. That unknown could be a place filled with disappointment, or rejection. Or perhaps taking that step is simply more work or energy than a griever actually feels they have to give.
So again, the first and most important step? Deciding that you are ready to find purpose and look ahead. It doesn’t have to mean running onto a diving board and jumping into a pool at full speed. Maybe it’s the step we take off our chair. The slow walk around the edge of the pool as we try to gauge the temperature. Maybe it’s kneeling down and reaching our hand in first, just to get the feel of what it may be like.
When you think you may be ready (and remember, there’s no right or wrong answer to when this is) then the real work begins. This can be a wonderful time of reflection and research. A chance to search for what’s out there, to talk to other people and find out…how are they spending their time? What is meaningful to them and how are they finding purpose?
It can be a chance to do the thing you always wanted to do and never had time for. It can be the cause that you always believed in, or it can be helping people who have suffered in ways you can relate to.
Because in the end, that’s the best advice I can give. To really truly find purpose, and to make the next step forward in life there’s one thing I think helps more than anything else…
Get out of your own head.
I don’t have to tell you what a really difficult place that can be, especially after loss. Getting out of our own head and finding a way to help others can be one of the most meaningful and productive things a griever (or anyone for that matter) can do. By taking the focus off ourselves and turning it to someone or something else where there’s a need will be one of the most soothing and healing ways we could spend our time.
And be certain that your next step isn’t to come up with all the reasons you can’t help. There is time for the things that matter to us. There are ways to do the things that we care about. Even being homebound doesn’t restrict us. If you are able to read this blog it means you have access to a smartphone or a computer. A phone and a computer are probably 2 of the most powerful tools we can have in reaching out to others today, but only when we decide we truly want to and that we’re ready, can we do it.
Spend some time today thinking about finding purpose and what comes next. If you don’t necessarily have interests of your own, that’s okay. A lot of caregivers have spent many years putting their wants and needs aside. Not knowing what you want is something so many people who have cared for a loved one can relate to. So think about your loved one. What was meaningful to them? Can you feel closer to them by finding a way to honor them or by being part of something they cared about or belonged to?
I met a woman who had recently lost her spouse after years of caring for him. She had no idea what to do with herself, but she knew she was ready to move forward with her life. Her husband had been a volunteer fireman for many years, and as she visited with some of his friends, and they shared old stories, it occurred to her – she could volunteer with the fire department too. And that’s just what she did. No, she didn’t participate in the very physical and dangerous way he might have, but she did get herself out in the community for every fundraiser and every special event they held. It allowed her to not only find some meaning for herself, but it got her out of bed, out of the house and kept her busy while staying alongside those people who knew him best. Volunteering for the fire department is the last thing she would have ever pictured for herself prior to her loss, but once her husband was gone it became the perfect fit. She tells me all the time that the fire department she works with has saved many people…and she considers herself one of them.
Remember – we may never get answers for all the “why”s of loss…why it happened, why now, why him/her? But we can find meaning in what comes next by creating meaning and finding purpose in our lives.
While www.griefincommon.com was created as a place for grievers to get help, I can’t tell you how often I see people join to give help. Reading and sharing stories, providing comfort and validation… there is so much love and support to be found and given right within the community we’ve created. Finding purpose after loss may not be easy, but visiting our site is.
Come join us today.
11 thoughts on “Finding Purpose After Loss”
I truly enjoyed this article because I am at this point in my life since my husband’s passing. I have been trying to figure out where to go or how to get hep/direction of what to do next. Any suggestions or books? Thank you for this article.
Toni, I’m sorry for the loss of your husband. Thank you for reaching out as you try to move forward, it’s no easy thing to do. I’m glad you found the article helpful and I hope it can be a start of what comes next for you. For most, I think this next phase is about trial and error. Give something (anything!) a try and see how it goes. I find most organizations or groups are flexible and understanding…meaning if you try it and it’s not right for you, you don’t need to feel obligated to stay. So take that pressure of yourself and think about what matters to you…is it work with animals, children, the elderly? Do you like books or the quiet spaces of a library? Do you like music, or do you have organizational skills that could benefit a group in your community? These are just some things to think about. I wish you all the best and hope we can be of some help to you in the future too. We are currently working on a “What’s Next Workbook” for grievers that can help them navigate this next phase of their life. Please keep in touch – we’d love to hear how you’re doing. Wishing you all the best ~ Karyn
Three things I find: 1) the loss of separation now depends on a balanced, empathetic, compassionate approach to everything…based on a regular, rhythmic prayer schedule (maybe not the fixed and fantastic routine of a monastic horarium, but even the smallest and most untrained lifting up the mind and heart to God in heartfelt thoughts of praise, thanksgiving and petition for others’ needs first, then what we perceive to be our own 2) the next step after prayer is ACTION, just do the next thing that tells you it needs to be done: laundry, dishes, work, taking kids to soccer practice, watering a plant, picking up a shoe, listening to a bird sing, watching the sun rise – just put one foot in front of the other and keep the body moving: even multitasking and doing several things at the same time: don’t worry about keeping it organized – it will all get done when it is supposed to! 3) make up your mind what is now most important in this life! : for me, it means what is invisible is of much more value than what is visible: the invisible will last forever, truly, really and yessireee – the visible – all of it will fade away one day: but the invisible promise is that because of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus to a newness of Life, Light, LOVE – all things will be transmorphed and transformed into a new visible, a new heavens, a new earth – with no time constraints, no schedules, no need to even eat unless you want to, or rest, or sleep: it will be a life of just BEING in the Heart of God and enjoying the company of all the saints, and all who have gone before us, waiting for us to catch up with them!
With these things – as attested to by 2000 years of witness, testimony, writing, preaching, and passing all this down in written documents: I BELIEVE IT! now does it take away the pain and the loss of separation I feel for the physical presence of my beloved co-founder of the Joyful Servants of the Cross – of course not! But i know now that the tears and tears of joy, actually, and of love and of healing – so I let them come – and when I hear something that Br. Paul would say to me: NO! its not just the memory of it: he is actually saying it to me personally and truly right now: he is communicating with me from the other side of The Bridge (see St. Catherine of Sienna’s description of the Bridge – google it). What a joy what a comfort – life with the person with whom I have a relationship bonded in love – is just different now – but certainly not ended.
Blessing of Peace and Hope to all who read this!
Yes, thank you for this article. I have no idea where I am going or how I will get there. I have only put the most rudimentary steps in place for a jumping off point much less actually jumping off. I lost my wife 7 months ago and she and our daughter were the totality of my universe. I think this article helps.
I find that the true happiness I felt before my stepdaughter died elusive. I feel that no matter how happy I ever am, I’ll never again feel the complete contentedness I did when all was right with our world (not the world but our world, our family).
I enjoyed reading this article. My husband passed away 6 months ago and i am having a hard time coping. I have a Mon to Friday job and that really helps me a lot, even though I can’t stop thinking and missing my husband. When the weekend is here, I get sad (I used to look forward to my weekends). I am just crying the whole weekend. I miss my husband so much. Ifeel like I don’t belong anywhere. My husband was the only person that I want to be with, he is the only that understands me and puts up with me. He was life. I still cannot believe he is gone. No one cares whether I come home or not, there’s no husband to come home to and most of all no husband that cares,worry and love me. I cannot explain the pain I am feeling right now. I have just been crying uncontrollably. I really miss him. My family lives a million miles away from me. I have a very loving family but it’s not the same. My husband and I have been married for 19 years and it was just always the two of us together all the time.
I lost my husband this year. The day after I birthed our first son. Needless to say, it’s been terribly rough. I understand how you feel and I’m sorry. I hope we find our new paths in our new normal very soon.
I just found this blog and will take some time to explore it. My father died 3 years ago and I still feel his loss every day. I do not have a family of my own and he was my only family here. The question is how to move forward.
My partner died in a nursing home six weeks ago. She had dementia. I had been her carer for 8 years of our 30 together. Because of Covid 19, I had not been able to visit her for 3 months before she died. Because I was her care, I feel like the centre of my life has gone. I don’t know what to think about any more. I spent all my time thinking about her. I get so upset thinking she may have thought I had abandoned her. I sent cards and phoned her but, to be honest, I’ve no idea how much she understood. I do want to start planning for the future, getting out and meeting more people etc but, again, the restrictions of the pandemic are making that difficult. I’m trying to take this as an opportunity to rest and think things through.
Grieving stages do not come with a game plan or within any order. The stages belong to you, and have no time set for your process. Feelings of intense loss, emptiness, and being lonely are part of the process. No one has the right to say to you, how are you going to cry? You do not need to answer to anyone, bit you need for someone to just hear you. Days you will feel better, days you will cry, feel the pain, and looking for direction. Now..one needs to be kind to ones self. Your loss and how you feel about it, belongs to you only. Claim it!! Slowly time, and prayer, will take this burden of pain to be less. After you have completed your stages of grieving, The stage many never mention is finding meaning. I loss my wife, my everything, Jusyt over two years ago, My final stage is finding meaning. It’s coming slowly, but time will show the outcome. I cared for my wife for ten years, during her illness. You know what, I would do it again for my everything again! Love and kindness to all.
I lost my beloved 36 year old son in November 2020 and still cry all day most days. I am having counselling at the moment but nothing helps the pain