Making Meaning of Loss

The quote from the Upanishads stayed with me through all of the loss I have experienced this past year. I quote it a lot. It helps me make meaning of all the death we have experienced in my family. I don’t know if heaven is an actual place, but it gives me comfort to think of dying as a return to a love beyond belief.

I often include in my remarks at memorial services a caution. I caution mourning family and friends not to rush too soon to make meaning of their loved one’s death. As Unitarian Universalists we do not have a doctrine to explain what happens after death; we each need to take time to make sense of the loss.

So it is with resilience. If building resilience is one way to get through loss, then we shouldn’t rush through that either. Rather, we shouldn’t rush towards that, checking it off once we arrive. Made meaning? Check. Arrived at resilience. Check.

My 28-year-old daughter died January 10 and it is a loss that is unlike anything I have ever experienced. Our first child died in utero at 29 weeks. Both my parents are gone. My step-daughter died in July a year ago. I know loss. Losing my daughter is a loss that is beyond words – as many have said to me. They have no words for me. I understand. I barely had words for myself at first. Seven months later, words are finally starting to come.

Resilience may come too, but it is not a goal I am working towards.

Psychotherapist Candyce Ossefort-Russell cautions that “resilience as a grief myth hurts people.” She continues, “I’m worried that the 21st century bandwagon of resilience is becoming a new hurtful grief myth that grievers will have to fight against in order to heal; a myth that will make grievers feel ashamed, crazy, and isolated if they cannot quickly bounce back, if they cannot return to a self they once were, if they cannot strive toward joy when they are slogging through.”

Because I am a Unitarian Universalist I do not have a doctrine of what happens after death. I have not made meaning of my daughter’s death and I have not made resilience my goal. Instead, I have embarked on a journey that I have never before taken. Maybe I will develop resilience. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I already have it. Maybe I don’t.

When I was a hospital chaplain attending a death, I would often say to the mourning loved ones in a prayer: “from love we come, to love we are returned.” It is a Universalist belief that I have come to after striving to make meaning of all sorts of terrible loss – mine and others. It is a universal truth found in the Upanishads: “All the universe has come from love, and unto love all things return.” That’s all the meaning I need for now.

About Lora Brandis

I am a Unitarian Universalist minister, on-call hospital chaplain and INELDA trained death doula. I am also nana/nanny to twins Rose and James - best job I've ever had.
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