I recently discovered the teachings of Victor Frankl, a trained psychiatrist and neurologist, who spent three years in four Nazi concentration camps, an experience that helped him develop Logotherapy. Logotherapy is a term derived from the words "logos," a Greek word that translates as "meaning," and therapy, which is defined as treatment of a condition, illness, or neurosis. Frankl observed that those who were able to survive the experience were more likely to find meaning in their suffering. After the camps were liberated Frankl resumed his work and published "Man's Search for Meaning," a book which centered on the premise that life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones. Frankl felt humans were driven to find a sense of meaning and purpose in life. What I like most about Frankl's teachings in the face of the worst possible adversity imaginable, is his concept that we have the freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the outlook we choose when faced with a situation of unalterable suffering.
If I take Frankl's premise to heart, I can see that in the face of my sorrow, I have the freedom to write down my feelings and more importantly I have the freedom to blog about my emotions with others across the world. I have blogged my heart out to ease my own personal anguish, as well to give voice to others experiencing deep grief. I am finding meaning in loss. I am finding positivity in sorrow. I am finding a way to keep living with purpose.
I am also looking to other parts of my life for purpose. I find that forging a stronger bond with my son and daughter-in-law has been immensely welcome and gratifying. Being with my grandkids has always been a win-win situation and now it is so, in spades. We exchange love, warmth, humor, and joy, a quality that has often eluded me since my husband Peter died last year. I have learned a new acceptance and tolerance of others that I consider a trusted attribute to have in my arsenal of purpose. I have always been hyper-vigilant, meaning my bull#&*t detector is on high alert as a protective mechanism. After Peter died I learned to be more open. I developed a sense of compassion so that I could sympathize with other widows and widowers as well as those who wanted to help me on my journey.
Dealing with my own loss has been unbearable. Sometimes grief literally takes my breath away so that the only way I can breathe is by sobbing, while gulping in bursts of air. But Frankl's teachings tell me to imagine the worst. So, I envision a scenario in which I die before Peter and my body shakes uncontrollably at the thought of his suffering. My "meaning" is that I spared sweet Peter this agony. Yes, I am paying a price by surviving and grieving but I have found a strange comfort in knowing he didn't suffer this anguish. I am finding meaning in life even when confronted with a heartbreaking situation that is unchangeable. I am trying to transform a tragedy into something meaningful. I am trying to make sense of my loss.
Frankl encourages us to recognize our grief and rage and to see our heartache as an experience in which it is possible to find some positivity from the pain. There is something in Frankl's "search for meaning" that is just evolving in my mind and gives me the hope to go on. The nature of meaning is different for all of us. For me writing is what keeps me going. This is my purpose to help me heal and to give a voice to others that it is okay to grieve openly. The comments I receive online bring both tears and smiles. Please keep your responses coming and let us continue the dialogue of grief in the open and out there for all to witness. If we must grieve, please let us do it openly, sobbing away our pain, without stigmas, taboos, and other hindrances in our paths.
"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." -- Victor Frankl