Meaning of Death

Creating Meaning out of Conflict and Tragedy

Cathy Patterson-Sterling
Cathy Patterson-Sterling , MA, RCC
INPM's Publications Coordinator British Columbia, Canada

“Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.”
Bernice Johnson Reagan

There is no doubt that times of tragedy as well as conflict in our lives are extremely painful on an emotional level. The gift of these moments, however, is that through tragedy we can achieve a greater sense of clarity into our own character as well as value system. During tragedy and conflict, we have the opportunity to test our strength in character and utilise our abilities. In essence, we get to see what we are made out of on a deeper personality level in order to address the challenges at hand.

In times of tragedy, we develop focus instead of being distracted by petty matters that may occupy our thinking. Suddenly, we have to contend with a greater problem and there is an incredible sense of unity that occurs when we focus our energies on the outside difficulty. Even during times of war, people are able to forget their minor squabbles as they bond together against the higher purpose of defending their rights as well as liberties.

During tragedy and conflict, our illusions of what we think are important fade away because we now have a gift of realizing what is truly precious in life. Consider the family member who is on the verge of passing away. During this moment, the love and value of the relationship are the most important factors. The minor arguments throughout life are of no significance during this time. Instead, we have an awareness of the impermanence of life and our loving relationships become even more special.

In times of national disaster, communities of people unite together to help others in need. As human beings, we achieve amazing levels of compassion when our characters are tested during these tumultuous events. Even in the crisis of September 11, 2001 (911) in the United States of America, each individual citizen asked what they could do to help in response to the terrorist attacks in which thousands of people died. Many individuals lined up for hours to offer a donation of blood for potential survivors of this national tragedy. Several funds were set up to help the surviving family members of firefighters and police officers who died in the World Trade Centre Building. When airline routes were redirected and thousands of passengers were stranded, people offered these strangers a place to stay in their homes. Endless numbers of people even risked their own lives to search through the remains of the World Trade Centre in an attempt to find survivors in the wreckage.

When tragedies or conflicts occur, people have the choice to feel like victims and question how this world could be so unfair or they can use these situations as a gift of insight into their own higher purpose in this world. In tragedies, we have a moment of clarity to understand who we really are and what is truly important in life.

In fact, the tragedies in our lives may be part of a greater plan to fulfill a higher purpose in society. For example, actor Michael J. Fox has used his condition of Parkinsons disease as a gift to bring awareness to this medical issue. Christopher Reeves was paralyzed from an equestrian accident and he made it his mission to make people aware of the importance of spinal cord research.

During times of tragedy and conflict, people are given an intense experience in contending with pain as well as disappointment. This heartache can be turned into motivation when individuals pay attention to a certain area in life that has been highlighted as a result of experiencing the tragedy. Individuals may ask themselves the following questions. What do I now understand as a result of enduring tragedy or conflict? Is this greater problem really a lesson in courage that I am meant to show others? Did I experience an injustice because I may be meant to bring attention to this issue in society? Many people have experienced this pain firsthand and they have the ability to turn this anguish into the betterment of other individuals’ lives by helping others truly understand the impact of this problem. When people find value in painful experiences, then these situations somehow become worthwhile and the heartache that they endured relates to a higher purpose. The result is that magnificent spiritual meaning can emerge from the darkness or despair of tragedy.