When people are faced with a gut-wrenching loss, they grieve. Whether they acknowledge their grief or stuff it into a place that no one, including themselves, can see, they grieve. For some, that means wailing and shrieking and hair pulling and a year of wearing black and never leaving the house. For others, it means denial — stony-faced silence and stoic self-control. For still others, it is profound depression: I know a woman who laid in bed and started at the ceiling fan going around and around for 6 months after her husband left her for another woman. Some people crawl into a bottle; some seek solace with drugs; some immerse themselves in their work. But everyone, without exception, grieves. Because grief is not an option; it is an intricate and inescapable component of loss.
But grief, in itself, does not heal. Healing is a process in which grieving is the first step. The next step — the step that I believe people are trying to approach to when they say “everything happens for a reason,” is finding meaning — something that allows you to continue living when life seems like a horrible waste of time.
Many years ago I attended a seminar in which the speaker played a recording of Eric Clapton explaining why he wrote and recorded “Tears in Heaven,” a song he wrote after the death of his son, Colin, at 4 years old. Clapton said the song, with its terribly sad yet hopeful lyrics, helped him reconnect with his music and gave some meaning to his life again.
Through the years, I have heard or witnessed dozens of similar stories, most of which I can’t share here, of people who have found a way to move past unfathomable pain. People like —
- John Walsh, the host of “America’s Most Wanted,” who lost his son Adam to an unspeakable tragedy in 1981 and subsequently went on, with the help of his wife, to almost singlehandedly force the passage of the Missing Children’s Act of 1982 and the Missing Children’s Assistance Act of 1984, which created the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
- Marc Klaas, father of 12 year old kidnapping and murder victim, Polly Klaas, who founded the KlaasKids Foundation, which provides support to parents of missing children, after his daughter’s death.
- The hundred of parents of children who lost their lives to gun violence who, following the murders of 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, united to form Everytown for Gun Safety and Everytown Survivors Network to offer support to grieving parents and lobby state and federal governments for stricter gun control.
All of these people and thousands of others have suffered through terrible loss and unspeakable grief. But they found a way to carry on, because they found a reason to come out on the other side of their pain.
“Everything happens for a reason” is not an empty platitude, nor is it a way for unthinking “others” to deny a person his grief. When people say “everything happens for a reason,” they are seeking order in a chaotic universe…meaning in random events that seem unbearably cruel. It is not, as Mr. Lawrence believes, a way of saying “It’s your fault.” In fact, it is the exact opposite — it is a way of saying “You can make sense out of even the most senseless, horrific, excruciatingly painful event of your life.” It takes nothing away, and it offers the most essential component of healing…hope.
There are some points on which I agree with Mr. Lawrence completely. Those are:
Tragedy does change your life forever.
You are never the same person again.
The pain never stops completely.
What doesn’t kill you does not make you stronger.
What I don’t believe is that finding a reason — any reason — to put the tragic events of your life in context that makes sense to you and assign some meaning to the pain is a bad thing. As a matter of fact, I think it is an essential part of learning to breathe again and finding joy in what is left of your life.