Finding Comfort in Grief through Connection and Co-Destiny

Understanding Grief / Understanding Grief : Eleanor Haley

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The year after my mother's death, I lived mostly an "in spite of" life. I got up and went to work each morning in spite of not really caring. I called home to check in with family, in spite of knowing my mother wouldn't answer. And I smiled through thoughtfully thrown baby showers (I was pregnant with my first) in spite of the fact that my mother wasn't there.

I had no "because." The why's that used to underlie my thoughts and actions now seemed either non-sensical or unimportant. My family was in shatters, a year of driving back and forth 300 miles to be with my sick mother put a strain on my marriage, and my new job was meh

My mother's death was a horrible and unexpected twist in her story. At 57, close to empty nest and retirement age, we thought she was heading towards a new chapter—not an ending. And after her death, the story we found ourselves in was also unfamiliar. We did the same things we had always done, but the wrongness of doing those things without my mother only reminded us how much we lost. We didn't know the point or purpose, so we just wandered. 

In those days, there was one thing and one thing only that brought me comfort. I was going to be a mother. So when my daughter was born a few months later, I think I was finally ready for something other than "in spite of" to be possible.

The shift to "because of"

Taking care of my new baby, I found I had a new experience; rather than "in spite of" moments, I had "because of" moments. I sang my daughter certain songs because they were the songs my mother sang to me. I read specific storybooks because they were my mother's favorites and bought certain baby products because they were the brand my mother liked. And I held tightly to every moment with my daughter because of the knowledge that someday, death would separate us. 

"In spite of" and "because of" are two sides of the same coin. Their differences are a slight shift in perspective. For me, it was the change from feeling that I was going on despite losing my mother to realizing one day that, in many ways, I was living the way I was because she had lived and loved me.

"Because of" was not a cure for my grief, but noticing it felt good. And in grief, accumulating small moments of comfort is important. Seeing my mother's ongoing role in our lives meant she wasn't gone. And knowing she could continue to guide me brought me relief. 

Co-Destiny in Grief

I was recently reading the book Resilient Grieving by Lucy Hone for the What's Your Grief Book Club. In it, she mentions the concept of "co-destiny." Co-destiny is a term coined by positive psychologist Joseph E. Kasper. He explains how this came to be in his paper Co-Destiny: A Conceptual Goal for Parental Bereavement and the Call for a "Positive Turn" in the Scientific Study of the Parental Bereavement Process.

I realized that my destiny was to live my life in a way that would make my son proud. I knew to accomplish this I was to help others who had suffered the loss of their child to not only survive the ordeal of their child’s death, but to grow from it. The awareness that I could add “goodness” to my son’s life by doing “good” in his name motivates me to this day. Everything I do that is a result of having known and raised my son ultimately reflects back to him, adding to my perceived quality of his life. This motivates me not only to change my philosophy in life, but to act upon this philosophy.

I like the concept of co-destiny. Death severs so many of our hopes, plans, dreams, and connections. Without the person who died, these things seem incompatible with the world and the future. And though things can never be as they would have been had your loved one lived, co-destiny allows you to stay connected and continue on together in some small way.

Someone might see their co-destiny as something huge, like a total shift in their life's calling. For example, there's no doubt that if my mother were still alive, I would never have co-founded What's Your Grief.

But what personally brings me the most comfort are the subtler ways I see my mother's purpose in life extended through the everyday actions of those who continue to love her. Those "because of" moments, like when any of her six children attempt to emulate the kind of mother she was or find some small way to connect their life with her purpose, values, and joys.

Spotting co-destiny and "because of" moments

Of course, I still have in spite of moments. And it can be uncomfortable to feel grateful for the paths my mother's death put me on. But I cannot deny that because of her death, I hold my daughters more tightly, have closer relationships with family members, and work here at WYG.

Does this mean I'm grateful for her death? Hell no. But her death wasn't just a terrible event; it was a turning point that sent me down a path where good and bad things happen. And many of those good things are a byproduct of loving and grieving her. I never wanted this path, but now that I'm on it, my eyes are open to the totality of the experience. 

"In spite of" is how many grieving people live for a while after experiencing loss. If this is where you are right now, that's okay. That's normal. And honestly, seeking connection and exploring co-destiny won't erase the sense of adversity and loss that comes with grief.

But if you're grieving and missing someone you love, looking for evidence of these things can help. So, if you decide to take one small step today, we encourage you to challenge yourself to keep an eye out for the ways you share a co-destiny with your loved one and the little things you do because of them.

Share your own examples of co-destiny and "because of" moments in the comments below!

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After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible, real-life book!

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10 Comments on "Finding Comfort in Grief through Connection and Co-Destiny"

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  1. Lynn  April 23, 2023 at 6:57 am Reply

    My daughter died from suicide in 2017. She was, from a young age, a force for good in the world, working for peace, the environment, and social justice. (She was also, to be honest, a bit judgy! It was hard to measure up to her standards.) Since her death, because of her death, I have tried to make things a little easier for other grievers, sending cards and listening, always listening to people’s stories. I have also become a facilitator with a local grief group. I sometimes say, “Having lost my daughter, I feel a need to mother the world,” but I’ve always been this way. Because of Catherine, I do it more intentionally, and I’ve found new places to put my energy.

  2. Ann Moore  March 7, 2023 at 10:29 am Reply

    I am losing my husband. He has pancreatic cancer and is entering hospice care. I have been grieving for a few weeks before he is gone. I try so hard to stay here in our moments but sometimes slip into the future and release my grief thru crying and memories. We have been in the moment in time for about 15 months and now have transitioned from the fight to the inevitable. Do this privately mostly . I feel like I am long two lives . I am focused on comfort for him and staying positive so I can function as a capable caregiver . I guess I don know if this is ok or what to do to change it . It is what it is .

  3. Carol  February 18, 2023 at 12:08 am Reply

    First, thank you for sharing this. I’m not sure my comment will directly relate, not even sure what I’ll type next. I’ve found my way to this site, WYG, several times over the past 5+ years and have appreciated the treasure on these pages every time. I think I’m searching for permission to let the “because of” guide and free me.

    Just turned 55 and when I look back most of my life has been different stages of grief of some kind or another. My dear 88 yo Dad just passed 4 months ago. One month and 12 days after moving him and my mom to be near me. We had no idea he was terminal, other than the way we all technically are. I had been going back and forth from my state to their state every month or 2 since both my brothers passed within the past 5+ years to visit, comfort, help. They finally agreed to move when I told them I wouldn’t be able to come help for a while as I was supposed to start treatment for MS, which I was diagnosed with last year. Looks like 30 years ago it first surfaced and went into remission until about 2 years ago. Getting the diagnosis has been very difficult and isn’t done yet. In the most recent tests and scans we found I have a mass on my kidney, still under evaluation, hopefully benign and another autoimmune condition.

    10 years before my brothers passed I told my family I knew I was adopted. 10 years before that my therapist told me the truth, that my mother had contacted him to tell him I was adopted. 10 years before that I was in the midst of other dream shattering crisis. And on and on. Like most people on the planet.

    In our family, my family of origin, I haven’t been the fun one, the popular one. I’ve been the comforting one, the responsible one and that’s been my role as long as I can remember. My mom’s mom died when she was 19 expecting my oldest brother. Then her dad when I was just a child. A cloud hung over her and our home, that’s just how it was. Both my brothers ventured out into their lives with intensity. They were fun, reckless, one very successful, the other very daring and they were not caretakers, nor were their families, who were more like care takers.

    My dear dad suffered with mental illness and I was there. As a teen I was far too involved in it, not by choice. He was an amazing and loving father regardless.

    When my first, oldest brother (14 years older than me) was diagnosed with terminal cancer I was the one he confided in, helped him search about his condition and possible treatment centers. I was the first to read that it was hopeless and I was asked to tell no one until he was ready. After he was ready and they were informed he never called me again. I still have no idea why. I loved him, looked up to him, longed to be respected by him and miss him terribly. Before he died I supported my nieces, was there for middle of the night crys, went with them to consult with his treatment team – a state away – more than a couple times, and tried to hold their and my mom’s grief with love. His 2nd ex wife (a destructive narcissist) came back in the picture and tore apart our family devastating my nieces and my parents with another level of trauma besides the impending loss. Then he was gone.

    Then what was left of my parents, emotionally, vanished too. They existed. The grey was understandably greyer. My nieces exhausted from losing their father and the fight with his ex (not their mother – his 1st ex) fell away under the weight of it all. They couldn’t bear my parents grief and their own.

    Then my 2nd brother had an unexpected heart attack. He’d had a history of addiction to the point of being lost for a while. He’d returned, been sober and full of growing faith for several years prior. But the loss of my 1st brother overshadowed both his existence and mine as far as family were concerned.

    I didn’t think it was possible to lose any more of what was left of my parents.

    No one noticed, acknowledged, comforted or supported my grief. Not even my husband until I found a helpful trauma therapist. Seasons passed, events passed. My kids grew and began adulting. My son got married, not much of my family there to stand witness or celebrate. My daughter graduated with several degrees and got engaged. I fought with flares of my mystery illness. I worked. I traveled back and forth, always rushed, always chaotic, always stuffing more into the days than one can do pleasantly. Life persisted.

    I worsened, finally made time to see a specialist and the scan showed new activity in my brain and spine. I finally had to tell my mom and dad I had to care for myself while caring for them. They moved. The first morning they woke up in their new home, one we had bought for them 4 years earlier knowing I would be the one to care for them, the ER visits started and I, alone again, found out my dad was terminal.

    While working to get my dad into a wonderful hospice facility I had to take my mom to the administrator so he could convince her I wasn’t trying to put her in a home. I arranged help with a church – Mom declined it, sought a counselor – at first Mom refused it, tried to get them support – only at his end did they accept it. My dad passed.

    4 months later I read a post here about supporting verses comforting and it hits home. All these years I’ve tried to be a comfort and that’s something that’s impossible. I can’t comfort any of this, and I’ve entirely neglected seeking comfort or support for myself and my own grieving while trying to do the impossible.

    I’m so tired of grieving. It’s been most of my life story. I was the black sheep “outsider” of the family – grief. I was the caretaker, far too young – grief at the loss of my childhood. I watched my dad fall apart – grief and fear. I was mocked by my older brothers for being too different and serious – grief and abandonment. I don’t have to go on, it’s clear in the black and white on this screen. Grief has been the air I’ve had to breath and I’m tired, I’m tired of it. It’s literally worn my nerves.

    I love my mom dearly. I read stories about moms as best friends and I feel grief at what I longed for. Normal – nope – grief. Doting grandma – nope, not after losing both boys – grief. It’s understandable, I know that. Logically I know that but within my chest, within my soul I have breath and life and dreams and events that are worthy of celebrating BECAUSE OF the fact we are still alive, we are all connected, I have loved those who have gone before me, because I’m part of this soup of a family and Gods’ creation. I am so tired of grief and I know more is coming. It’s unavoidable. But I’m tired of grief and numb being all there is. I know God created me for more than that. I’m giving myself permission to let life flow through my veins, heart, mind, soul again, possibly for the first time.

  4. BETH M  January 14, 2023 at 2:18 pm Reply

    I lost my daughter when she was 31 and then my oldest son in his fifties. I had things then (work, raising my granddaughter etc) that kept me busy and helped me get through the grief. Seven weeks ago, my husband unexpectedly passed away after 60 years of marriage. Since that moment I have been in a “black hole” , a “void” where I’m not feeling anything at all. All I want to do is sleep. Is this normal or do I need help? I can’t move forward.

    • Litsa  February 1, 2023 at 2:25 pm Reply

      I am so sorry to have suffered and the reality of each loss is that it often brings up so many of our other losses – they are often connected. Your loss is still incredibly recent and after 60 years of marriage it is to be expected that even navigating the day to day can be hard in the first couple of months. Just wanted to sleep to avoid the reality of things is common. Often our brains will self-protectively numb or compartmentalize the hard emotions if they feel like too much. We have an article about this here that you might find useful –

      We always tell people that there is no threshold that you need to meet to get help. Talking to a counselor might be a way to help you slowly face some of the painful emotions, so you can begin to feel them safely while also navigating a path forward. I would suggest considering that support, not because what you are experiencing is abnormal, but because some support can be so helpful even in ‘normal’ grief. And if you find that another month passes and you still have not seen any improvements, at that point I would definitely reach out for some support from a grief counselor or other therapist.

  5. Michelle  January 10, 2023 at 1:19 pm Reply

    Thank you for this article. My husband died suddenly less than 3 months ago and I’m doing better but it’s difficult. I feel so guilty sometimes when I’m feeling happy. Like I should still be sad all the time. But maybe… maybe I can find a way to feel happy because he loved me? I miss him so much.

  6. Catherine  January 10, 2023 at 11:30 am Reply

    Thanks for always sharing these stories. I lost my husband just over a year ago and my life has changed so drastically I can hardly keep up, I cry more now than when he first passed away. Lately, however, I find myself in certain situations where my immediate reaction is to be sad and then I recall my wonderful husband often saying to me “everything is going to be ok”. As much as I miss him and my life feels so empty and lonely I catch myself smiling when I recall some of the things he would say to me at just the right time.

  7. Lizzylou  January 9, 2023 at 3:46 pm Reply

    I found this article really helpful and it has cheered me somewhat. I made an effort to think of some ‘because of’ things and I surprised myself with how many I thought of. I like the idea of co-destiny too.

    Since my husband’s death eighteen months ago, I have had long periods of struggle particularly the last 2-3 months your articles have been invaluable in keeping me moving forwards. Thank you.

  8. Barbara James  January 9, 2023 at 1:07 pm Reply

    With regard to the idea of co-destiny—last week I was in the grocery store and the staff member at my check out line had applied her eye make up in a spectacularly beautiful way—took lots of time and talent. My late daughter Ruth would never had let that beauty go unacknowledged so I very enthusiastically complimented the staff member. She was delighted! When I got to my car, I told Ruth: “I did this because you would have done it if you were here. You intentionally looked for ways to make people’s days better, so I’m going to continue to do that because of you.” It makes me smile now, even days later.

  9. Donna  January 9, 2023 at 11:07 am Reply

    Thank you so much for your willingness to share your grief experience. I find this so helpful. I lost my mom in 2016 and my husband in 2020. While I think I’m doing better I recognize that I am still struggling. I seem to have crazy dreams about my mom and husband.


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