Finding the Meaning in the Tragic Loss of a Loved One
Many years ago I learned from a hospice chaplain that in it’s broadest sense, spirituality is about finding meaning.
When someone we love dies and we’re facing an abysmal future without them, the meaning can be almost impossible to find.
Though there are many factors making sudden, unexpected and violent deaths more difficult for those left behind, one of the big ones is the meaninglessness of it all. No matter how hard we try, these deaths make no sense. In trying to make sense out of them the grieving process generally becomes more complicated and prolonged.
Sometimes it is up to us to make meaning out of catastrophe. These two 9/11 widows are stellar examples of making meaning out of the senseless acts of violence that so profoundly touched their lives.
Making meaning out of an untimely death by serving others is not for everyone. There are no shoulds here, but there are countless examples of others surviving their grief by taking action in service to others.
Though these are enormous causes, it doesn’t have to be a huge thing or even a formal one. My father who always left such things to my mom, stepped up by reaching out to others who were grieving. After her death, he made a point of calling and writing anyone he knew who was grieving. It was healing for him as well as for them.
There are many ways to serve, and there are many ways to make meaning where none exists. This is the story of 2 women who turned a personal and national tragedy into something meaningful by dedicating themselves to making a difference.
In the shattering aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, Ms. Retik bonded with another woman, Patti Quigley, whose husband had also died in the attack. They lived near each other, and both were pregnant with babies who would never see their fathers.
Devastated themselves, they realized that there were more than half a million widows in Afghanistan — and then, with war, there would be even more. Ms. Retik and Ms. Quigley also saw that Afghan widows could be a stabilizing force in that country.
So at a time when the American government reacted to the horror of 9/11 mostly with missiles and bombs, detentions and waterboardings, Ms. Retik and Ms. Quigley turned to education and poverty-alleviation projects — in the very country that had incubated a plot that had pulverized their lives.
This story has a personal connection for me. Though I never knew her personally, one of these widows lived in my neighborhood. I remember walking by her house every day wondering how she was doing, and how she was ever going to recover from such devastation. She never knew I was saying a prayer for her and her children every time I passed. Now I know how she survived and I’m in awe.