Mary Anne Evans, more well known by her pen name of George Eliot, once wrote, “There is no despair so absolute as that which comes with the first moments of our first great sorrow, when we have not yet known what it is to have suffered and healed, to have despaired and recovered hope.” Finding meaning after experiencing a profound loss, or receiving the news of an illness that could claim one’s life, might be one of life’s most difficult challenges. Yet lots of people, including the three women who have come together for LIV ON—Olivia Newton-John, Amy Sky, and Beth Nielsen Chapman—are able to transcend their grief to triumph over fear and sorrow.
Finding meaning after some life-changing event—whether it be the death of a loved one, a diagnosis, a breakup, or suffering some other life trauma—often takes time and a lot of courage. This recovery process seems to be captured by Patti Davis when she wrote, “It takes strength to make your way through grief, to grab hold of life and let it pull you forward.” Early on a person may experience shock, profound sadness and even anger. The person might have a hard time making sense of what has happened. And initially the person may feel as though they will never be able to move out of their grief, for themselves and the life they knew, or for their loved one. If given enough time, a lot of people are able to transcend their sorrow, even though it never completely leaves them, and are able to find meaning and inspiration through integrating a wide range of emotions—all the way from despair and anger to compassion and joy. In their journey, the person is able to find a new kind of happiness in living, one with greater consciousness, compassion, kindness, and love.
Experiencing meaning often requires the balancing task of remembering and honoring what was, while at the same time finding a new purpose in living. In navigating grief and loss, a person will often look back for life lessons, while at the same time appreciating gifts they were given because of the events they faced. The person often feels they are at a cross-roads. They need to make a choice on how to handle their loss and how to live the rest of their life. Occasionally a person’s prognosis might not give them enough time or they might get lost in their despair, but for many the loss propels them to a greater faith, a greater love, a greater compassion, a greater inspiration—a greater living. They often get a new realization of just how short life really is and feel that they have been given a second chance where they decide what really matters, what they truly value.
Getting to that healing place often takes a connection with supportive and understanding family, friends and sometime, professionals. No two journeys are the same, but for many they transcend their heartache by undertaking the courageous act of being vulnerable and walking through their emotions—including the deep sadness, fear and yearning—and sharing themselves with people they trust. By doing so, they are able to come out on the other side with some type of understanding and a much deeper connection to those who walked with them. Carl Rogers, an eminent psychologist once wrote, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
For the singer/song-writers Olivia Newton-John, Amy Sky, and Beth Nielsen Chapman, they had “a desire to transform individual grief into healing via music… for all.” Their desire was to offer hope, compassion and inspiration. Arriving at this place of trying to do a greater good seems to be part of the human condition. So many have followed a similar path in trying to make a difference in the world after a loss, whether through music, poetry, art, writing, creating an organization, getting involved in a cause, setting up a scholarship, helping a child or other people, or strengthening the bonds of one’s existing relationships. In time, a person is able to look back and see the gifts in their loss and they appreciate the person they have become. Although the life-changing event still scars their soul, they are forever changed and have come out on the other side often leading a fuller, more authentic life that has taken on a new meaning because of what they have gone through. For that, they are forever grateful.
By Jan J. Wertz, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychology
Jan Wertz is associate professor of psychology. She was named a Centre Scholar in 2007. In 2005, and again in 2015, she received the Kirk Award for excellence in teaching. Her primary interest is how stress and coping are related to burnout.
Prior to coming to Centre, she was assistant professor of psychology at Kentucky Wesleyan College. Wertz has a Ph.D. and an M.S. from the University of Kentucky. She holds two B.S. degrees from Montana State University and the Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology. She had a pre-doctoral internship at a VA hospital in Tacoma, Wash., performing neuropsychological evaluations, working with Alzheimer’s patients, and assisting homeless veterans gain housing and employment.
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