When coping with the loss of a loved one, finding meaning in the event and seeing the positive side of things really helps.
When someone we love dies it can be very difficult to cope. Psychologists who study coping with loss have found that people who develop an understanding of the event and its implications seem to cope most effectively. Unfortunately, psychologists are not clear exactly what about understanding an event and its implications helps a person cope. One possibility is that a person reduces their distress by making sense of the event or explaining why the event occurred For example, a person may come to believe that a loved one's death was simply meant to be because it was part of God's plan. Another possibility is that people find something positive in the event (the "silver lining") that lets them take some comfort in the loved one's death. For example, a person may gain a new perspective on his or her life, or the death may have brought the person's family closer together. To try and sort out how each of these processes affect coping with loss, and what factors influence these two processes, researchers from the University of Michigan and Stanford University conducted a study.
What was the research about?
The researchers first recruited 455 participants who had a terminally ill loved one in hospice care. Each of these participants was interviewed prior to the death of their loved one, as well as 6, 13, and 18 months after the death of their loved one. During the first interview the researchers measured psychological distress, how religious the participant was, and how optimistic/pessimistic the participant was. During each interview after the loved one had died, the researchers measured psychological distress, optimism/pessimism, and whether the participant had been able to make sense of the loved one's death and/or find some positive aspect in the experience.
The results showed that participants were more likely to make sense of their loved one's death if the person had died at an older age and the participant was more religious. Interestingly, the only factor related to whether participants were able to find some positive aspect in the experience was how optimistic they were. Participants were more likely to find the "silver lining" the more optimistic they were. The results also showed that finding a positive aspect in the experience helped participants cope better with their loved one's death than making sense of the event did. Therefore, it seems that seeing the sliver lining helps more than just making sense of why the person died.
Why should it matter to me?
Losing a loved one is a truly terrible experience to go through. Although you may be overwhelmed with grief, trying to see the positive aspects of your experience can help you cope. Perhaps the person was suffering and their death brought them relief, or perhaps you realized just how much your family and relatives cared for your well being as they gave you social support. Regardless of what benefits you draw from a loved one's death, seeing those benefits can help their death enrich, rather than diminish, your life.
Source: Davis, Christopher G., Nolen-Hoeksema, Susan, & Larson, Judith (1998). Making sense of loss and benefiting from the experience: Two construals of meaning. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 561-574.