Does Grief have a Purpose?

Does grief have a purpose? Does it move us toward a better version of ourselves?

Every sad ending contains the seeds of a new happy beginning. I know this for sure and have lived through it myself. In a recent phone call, this truth was revealed to me one more time.

One of my jobs as a hospice volunteer is to make follow-up phone calls to bereaved family members. How the conversation will go is something I can usually predict within the first five seconds of a call. Short, clipped sentences and a hasty I’m doing okay followed by a pregnant pause often mean Don’t bother me now. I don’t want to talk about my pain. And then  there are the calls where as soon as I introduce myself I am asked: “Uma!? What country are you from?” I know then there’s a willingness to connect, to chat, to prolong the conversation. And so we travel further.

On one such call I was pleasantly surprised to be talking to Rose whose warm, welcoming voice suggested the openness of a kind spirit. Rose had lost her eighty-seven-year-old mom just three months prior. I asked her how she was coping, what her grief challenges were.

“Some days are good. Some not,” she said, sighing. “But I do have a supportive network. Church, family and friends. That makes it a lot easier.”

She was confirming a universal truth. Those who were connected to a community usually connected better with their grief too. Healing loves company.

I told her I was happy that her grief journey wasn’t a long, lonely plod.

What she told me next blew me away.

Following the death of her mom, Rose had adopted a 95-year-old senior living in a nursing home. Not “adopted” in the legal way, but in the most loving way. The old woman had no family, no friends, no one in the world. Until Rose showed up in her life. Rose visited with her every week, brought her Starbucks coffee and other treats and enjoyed a real connection with her.

“She helps me a lot in healing from my loss,” said Rose. “I miss my mom, but every time I visit with my new friend, I know she’s a gift mom sent me. I need her as much as she needs me.”

My heart swelled with emotion. What a wonderful way to turn pain into purpose! When we use our pain in the service of another, we become the recipient of blessings and healing.

When we lose someone we love, life presents two options: 1) shut down from the world and burrow deeper into the pain 2) acknowledge and accept the pain and allow it to open our heart wider.

In so doing, Rose was healing two people, but the effects of her action reach far beyond two souls, as we know. One small act of kindness can have unseen ripple effects that heal the planet.

Does grief have a purpose? I say yes. Drop a comment about what you think.

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