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  • Writer's pictureEdmund Ng

B02: Finding Meaning Following A Loss

Updated: Jan 17, 2023

Susie’s only son, a well-built man of 30 years old, was found drowned in the swimming pool of his condominium on a Saturday morning. Her whole world collapsed on her as she is very close to her son. What puzzled her most is the fact that her son is a licensed and experienced diver.

A short distance from the condominium is a slum area where Mutu lives. He had also just lost his 22-year-old son through an accident after his motorcycle hit a pothole while on his way to the university. The young lad was doing his final year in an engineering course. He had always wanted to make his father proud as the first and only graduate in the history of the family through the generations.

When an elderly person dies in his or her ripe old age, the loss fits our expectations of what is natural, and it does not pose a challenge to our basic beliefs and core values. However, when the loss of a loved one is untimely or unexpected, as in the above two cases, such a death can shake the very foundations of our assumptive world and the bereaved will often search for meaning to make sense of the tragedy.

Compensatory actions

Some bereaved people may find consolation through certain compensatory actions related to the manner or cause of death in order to change their perception from what is meaningless to a vague belief that the loss is not in vain. For example, Mutu started a public campaign to fill up potholes using his own resources to minimize the risk of further accidents to other people. Likewise, a rich man who lost his wife to cancer may donate a large sum of money for cancer research in the hope of finding a cure for the disease.

However, many of the changed beliefs from compensatory actions are merely substitutional justifications that the bereaved can cling to as handles in their search for meaning. Indeed, the human rationalizations and euphemisms can only temporarily serve to meet our need for logical explanations to make believe the acceptance of the loss to be more bearable.

Having experienced the sudden loss of my first wife through a brain aneurysm at a stage of our lives when God called us to undertake a significant mission project for Him, I had sought for meaning in loss myself. My conclusion is that we need not settle for a superficial explanation because true meaning in what we perceive as a senseless death can be found if we see it from God’s perspective.

The commonest questions sought

The most common questions first asked by the bereaved in seeking meaning following the tragic loss of a loved one are likely to be “why me?” and “why now?” If they have a personal faith in God, they may also ask, “why does a good God allow so much sufferings?” or “why do bad things happen to good people?”

For most of us, our unspoken assumption is that we deserve ease and comfort in life on a presumptuous basis that we live in a predictable world where fairness is to be expected. It is as if an injustice must have been incurred when a loved one is prematurely taken away from the family, especially when we have not been bad. For most people, God is ultimately made responsible for allowing this injustice.

The reality is that we live in a chaotic and broken world where the root cause of our sufferings is not God but sin. In this state of fallenness, suffering can happen randomly to anyone due to the bad choices made by ourselves and others in addition to supernatural causes from the evil forces in our midst.

But when the cause of the loss cannot be established after lengthy human investigations, further insistence on the why’s can be counter-productive.

In the end, we can only come to an acceptance that knowing the cause of death will not undo what has happened. This is when we need to switch to searching for meaning in life and death from God’s perspective.

Meaning of loss through God’s perspective

God being omniscient knows the number of days we live on earth even before we are born. In that sense, no death takes place prematurely. When our time is up, there is nothing we can do to delay our departure from this life on earth. Our journey in this world has come to an end and we will change our address to live in another dimension of existence. In fact, how we die will no longer be relevant to us.

The dying person can only take along one thing: his or her character. In fact, this is the reason God put each of us to sojourn our life journey on earth, which is to refine our character through the ups and downs of our daily lives so that we are better suited to live with Him in eternity. We cannot take along our experiences, wealth, position, fame, or power because they are also irrelevant in eternity.

Therefore, even when we lost our loved ones in deaths that are sudden or untimely, we need to come to an acceptance in the end that when their time on earth is up, we ought to surrender them back to God. We embrace their absence with sadness and hold them in suspense until we see them again when it is also time for us to go. Meanwhile, we cherish memories of them being part of our lives for those days or years they were with us.

We are not dead even if our loved one is gone and we are still responsible to God and others in our midst for the way we live our lives. That is why we do not want to waste the season of suffering as we grieve over the loss of our loved ones. Let God redeem our suffering and help us emerge as a better and not bitter person following our loss experience.

How can a caregiver help?

A caregiver can help in the following ways:

a) Guide and point the bereaved to God and not elsewhere to seek for answers.

b) Encourage them to rest in God and come before Him with spiritual brokenness and total abandonment.

c) Teach them to wait patiently upon God, and in the process grow in faith in Him.

d) Persuade them to journal their struggles and thoughts until they come into the context and perspective that satisfy their search for the meaning of their loss.

Different individuals may come to conclude as to what meaning will satisfy their search. In other words, the ability to re-ascribe meaning to a changed world of the bereaved may be more significant than the specific content by which that search for meaning is satisfied or fulfilled. Therefore, the specific ways in which the bereaved find meaning may be less salient than the process itself. The role of the caregiver is to guide them along that process.

22 July 2022

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