Through my work as an educator, chaplain, social worker and bereavement counselor (and in the personal sphere), there is one issue that keeps grabbing me by the throat and will not let go. I have met people who are grappling with impending loss or transition and others trying to cope with the aftermath of homicide, suicide, accidents, domestic abuse, child abuse, rape, drug addiction and overdose, deaths from “natural causes” and countless other catastrophes or traumas. What I continue to find both amazing and hopeful, is the resilience, healing, understanding and constructive transitions that can become the product of such intense changes and assaults upon the human spirit.
Events that could and often do, crush us psychologically (and/or physically) can also be used for personal transformation and change. There are some individuals that find hope and opportunity in the midst of adversity. Many a day I recall listening to someone describe a childhood of horror and loss that would have shattered me, yet they have been able to find some meaning in their experience and a means to use their trauma instead of letting it use them. Conversely, there are individuals who appear to never recover or constructively adapt to the changes in their lives and let the traumatic event or death control their every thought, word or deed.
There are some obvious environmental or familial histories that provide some credence and supporting evidence to certain responses, yet to rely on such background alone to predict normal or complicated mourning can be misleading and erroneous. Some people who have come from the most secure, loving homes on the planet can still react maladaptively to grief and conversely, those who have never had much love or support in their lives can respond to the same losses with life-affirming choices and behaviors.
If we can find some common threads among those who’ve learned how to constructively use their response to adversity (specifically loss from death of a loved one), we could perhaps find which characteristics, attributes, environments and support systems should be encouraged, strengthened, implemented and utilized for others experiencing similar loss and bereavement.