Tara Shafer

To Begin Again

Finding Meaning in Loss

Bereaved parents face the daunting task of making sense of the unfathomable.

Posted Jul 14, 2016

As I lay in labor in a hospital room with a child I knew would be stillborn, I was seized with the limits of my ability to act. At the same time, I began to understand (as completely as I have ever understood anything) that if I could not find meaning in this loss, I would go insane.  

It felt like religion. Finding a legacy for my lost one took on a fierce urgency. I can only describe the urge to act and to remember as primal.

I am not alone in these feelings. In great loss, many survivors opt for active stance remembrance.

This is applicable to bereaved parents. Research shows that those who find meaning in their loss are more likely to integrate a universe of emotions in ways that permit the survivor to discover hard won happiness in living.  

This is not an uncomplicated equation. It reminds me of standing in the middle of a see saw and trying to maintain a balance. We stand there longing for the past—and for a different outcome. So too do we work to accept loss—to remember and to honor.

According to researchers who looked at bereaved parents, finding meaning in loss is helpful.

“Among individuals who seek treatment for protracted grief, recent work emphasizes the task of finding meaning in the loss as key to long-term recovery. Much of this theory has been based on Frankl’s seminal work, in which he described the vast emptiness that bereaved individuals feel as “existential vacuum.” Likewise, grief has been described as the loss of an “assumptive world,” in that the generalized sense of predictability and stability of the world has been challenged. Accordingly, clinical approaches have emphasized the need to help the survivor find meaning and a sense of purpose for both the deceased’s life and his or her own life in order to regain a sense of well-being.”

Laura Malcolm and James Kocsis lost their first child, a daughter named Layla, in 2013. Layla was stillborn nearing the end of a pregnancy that had been, to that point, uneventful. As Malcolm and Kocsis work to integrate Layla’s loss, they have continued to build their family.

In addition, they are poised to launch Give InKind, a tech start-up designed to help people (and those who love them) in providing effective and targeted assistance in all kinds of transitions and crises. A step beyond traditional crowdfunding, Give InKind aims to make community organization simpler by providing specific ways family and friends can offer assistance in times of need.   

Says Malcolm:

“Watching our friends and family struggle to support us after our daughter was born only added to our grief. We knew there had to be a better way to guide loved ones who so desperately wanted to help. Once we had safely welcomed our second child into the world, we found the strength to create Give InKind, our daughter’s legacy in this world.”

Active stance remembering creates a space for authentic living. I do not want to divest myself of grief. In grief, I am able to embrace all the other messy bits to live in a universe of my making. With all my children—and in all their glory.

As I have written about the pain of loss, I have discovered a sense of purpose. I’d give back whatever small knowledge I gain through these efforts in exchange for a different ending. However, those are not the cards I was dealt. Learning to live with this is painful, beautiful—prism-like and strange.

I can’t know much but the striving to remember.