Devoting to a Cause
We’ve all heard of courageous people who after experiencing a painful loss, transform their suffering into passion, purpose, and community. The word passion derives from the Latin passus, meaning to suffer. Guided by a desire to help others avoid the suffering they’ve experienced, they devote themselves to a cause larger than themselves.
A woman whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver started a group called Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Haven Fyfe-Kiernan, who lost her husband on the first plane that crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, opened The Wellness Room in Massachusetts to offer bereavement counseling.
The parents of Matthew Shepherd, who was brutally murdered for being gay, became strong advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and or queer (LGBTQ) rights and helped pass a federal law called the Hate Crime Prevention Act (HCPA).
And there is the extraordinary example of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who fled his homeland at the outset of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese occupation. His Holiness embodies the losses and suffering of the Tibetan people, while also exuding kindness, love, and joy wherever he goes.
Small Acts Too
Granted these are remarkable responses to unspeakable losses, but there are lots of examples of ordinary people who also acted with great joy, kindness, and generosity, at least in part because they too have suffered and want to give something back.
When one of my bereavement groups was ending, a widower named Charles joined a new bereavement group. He was beginning to feel happier and more rooted, and believed his experiences could be a beacon of hope to those newly bereaved.
Some people join choruses that sing at the bedsides of the dying.3 Others volunteer at local shelters to walk dogs and reduce suffering of animals waiting for adoption, or ride their bikes in the Pan-Mass Challenge4 that raises millions of dollars for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (Boston). Volunteers with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) work to create housing for adults with disabilities. A mother who lost her baby at birth raises money for her hospital’s neonatal unit—hoping to save another family from the tragedy she suffered.
How Can You Restore Your Well-Being?
How will you take your broken-open heart, your vulnerability and your tenderness, and allow it to restore your own well-being? At some point when you’re ready, and only when you are ready and have enough energy to reach out, how will you allow your grieving heart to connect with others and make the world a little more welcoming?
Sit quietly for a few moments and focus on the flow of your breath, in and out. Say slowly, to yourself, the following phrases:
May I allow myself to feel vulnerable.
May I have the courage to ask for what I need.
And may I find ways to help other people and living beings.
A Few Suggestions
Reflect on ways you might develop a support network for yourself.
- Reach out to someone today and see if they would be a “grief friend.”
- Look for a local bereavement group or an online community that can support you.
Take a few minutes to reflect on activities you love, such as making music, woodworking, learning a language, or playing sports.
- What small gesture can you make to cultivate one or more of these passions, foster community, and give back?
Identify someone who is struggling—because of a difficult relationship, a sick child, stress at work, or homelessness.
- What random act of kindness might you offer?* * *
Excerpted from Opening to Grief: Finding Your Way from Loss to Peace, by Claire B. Willis and Marnie Crawford Samuelson (Dharma Spring, 2020). Reprinted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser. All rights reserved.
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About Claire B. Willis:
Claire B. Willis is a clinical social worker who has worked in the fields of oncology and bereavement for more than 20 years. A co-founder of the Boston nonprofit Facing Cancer Together, and a lay Buddhist chaplain, she has led bereavement, end-of-life, support and therapeutic writing groups, offering resources for building resilience and holding grief, so others are able to connect more deeply to ourselves and to one another and to find meaning in the midst of loss.