If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete. –Viktor Frankl
This week a friend of mine went to work and never came home. His car was hit by a joyrider driving over 100 mph and he died of his injuries in the hospital, leaving behind a beautiful family with two young boys and a loving wife. He was active in our community and left a wide swath of grief as we attempt to make some kind of sense of this tragedy.
Perhaps my friend’s wife, who in the span of 36 hours became a new widow, will experience a great blessing from this horrific event – I certainly hope that this is the case. One of my clients who lost her healthy husband over a year ago after a short illness struggles to understand how this could have happened. What about the parents of the children who have died in these school shootings? How can we find meaning in this?
Some will say “It’s all part of God’s plan.” I don’t know if that is enough. I do believe that some things are fated and beyond our control. I do believe that we have a contract for our life and we do come into this life with an astrological chart that describes our psychological tendencies and a path that we are likely to take. Our free will helps us to make some choices along the way, but when a car hits you from behind at 100 mph there is no choice involved there. That is fate. How to find meaning in that?
I’m sure if I looked at the charts involved I would see some kind of astrological significance. In my work with clients over the years I have seen that shocking events such as this ultimately result in incredible transformation in one way or another. The devastating accident that leaves a client with permanent injuries forces them to confront difficult truths and change their life. The death of a spouse brings reconciliation with adult children. The sudden death of a fiancé two weeks before a wedding leads to a spiritual exploration of great ultimate satisfaction. But the astrological significance doesn’t always help us to heal or to find the kind of meaning that would help us to find real peace.
The search for meaning is a critical piece of human psychology. In astrology it is Jupiter that illustrates how we will search for and find meaning in life. Even those who believe there is no meaning have established this as their belief system. But I believe that we are meant to ultimately find meaning in these tragedies. That there will be a gift in every experience of devastation. Studies have shown that finding meaning in tragedy helped the bereaved to live more meaningful lives in general. In a study of parents who had lost a child, “Benefit finding seemed to have special relevance 5 years post loss, as parents discussed such themes as new insights into the meaning of life and reordering priorities, deepening of existential beliefs, valuing the deceased child, the belief that the child’s suffering had ended, becoming more altruistic, and learning of one’s strength in the face of adversity.”
Finding meaning in tragedy ultimately means finding meaning in life. I believe that life is bigger than we can imagine, and that there is some kind of existence on either side of birth and death. I believe that there are many planes of existence and our physical life takes place in just one of those. I believe that experiences of loss and tragedy break us apart and offer the opportunity to be rebuilt in new and more powerful ways.
Not right away – not while our hearts are breaking. And there is no timeline for when grief and horror turns into understanding and acceptance and ultimately healing. I believe, though, that when we ask the right questions we are eventually given the answers and this will help us to find sense in the senseless and regain our place in this world. In the meantime I will seek the solace of meditation and prayer and ask that my friend and her children, and all beings who are suffering, be surrounded in grace and love, and that the gifts of meaning and understanding will be granted.