Finding Meaning After Loss

meaning after loss claire bidwell smith
I recently turned 40 and I spent the morning sitting on my patio writing in my journal and reflecting on the last year. Birthdays are always hard for me. No matter how festive or sweet or quiet or loud, something always feels to be missing. I always feel a strange sort of embarrassment or shame or melancholy, and I know that all of this has to do with no longer having the two people who brought me into this world.

Some years are harder than others, and this morning I was thinking about why. I realized that the years in which I didn’t feel melancholy were the years in which I spent my birthday in service of some kind. This realization led me to think about the bigger concept of being in service.

It was a couple of years after my father died when I found myself working in helping capacities – first at a nonprofit supporting underserved school kids, then at an organization that helped homeless people find jobs, after that in hospice, and now in private practice as a grief counselor. Every single day now I talk to people who are hurting, people who are lost, and people who feel alone. Every single day I work to step out of my way and give something of myself to the community around me.

This is the number one thing that has led me out of my grief and pain. Finding a way to feel useful and purposeful in the world, making meaning out of tragedy, and giving what I can of myself, has changed my life. If you are grieving right now, or even just in pain of some kind, I recommend spending an hour or two, or even more, doing things for other people. I promise that those couple of hours will be the ones during your week that glow with peace and love. 

There are no quick fixes to grief. It’s a long process with ups and downs, but the things that I know that actually provide relief from the suffering are meditation, finding ways to be of service, and journaling.

If you’d like guidance on your grief process, my online grief program, A Safe Place to Grieve is now available in a self-guided version. Learn more here.

If you’re grieving right now and you haven’t tried these things, give them a shot. I promise they’ll ease some of your pain.