Chapter 1: Grief responses to suffering and death

Questioning faith

Rabbi Harold Kushner attempts to address these profound questions in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, written in the aftermath of his son’s death. He writes:


…the bad things that happen to us in our lives do not have a meaning when they happen to us. They do not happen for any good reason which would cause us to accept them willingly. But we can give them a meaning. We can redeem these tragedies from senselessness by imposing meaning on them. The question we should be asking is not, "Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this?" That is really an unanswerable, pointless question. A better question would be "Now that this has happened to me, what am I going to do about it?

Exploring faith

Everyone at some point struggles with questions of faith and spirituality. This is done in unique and innumerable ways. Some people seek and find satisfying answers to these questions, perhaps with the guidance of a spiritual or faith leader. Others are comfortable sitting with the questions, finding ways to simply be with the great mysteries of life.

Facing his own impending death, English professor Philip Simmons wrote of his struggle to find deeper meaning and to “fix" the problems of his declining health.

I needed a new vocabulary. In my search for healing I turned to religion in particular, because it is with religious language that human beings have most consistently, rigorously and powerfully explored the harrowing business of rescuing joy from heartbreak.

Shouldering our responsibility

Both Kushner and Simmons put the onus squarely on the individual: it’s up to each person to construct meaningful responses to the big questions life throws at them. Sometimes, and for some people, this will be through religious beliefs and practices. Others will embark on a path with fewer set guideposts.