It is argued that a meaning-focused coping strategy is positive. I agree since this technique requires a person to find meaning from tragedy. You ask, “How do I apply this when I’ve lost a loved one to death?” I answer, “By combining your focus with social coping strategies such as support groups and charity work.”
There are many organizations available in which you can participate in fund-raising activities for research and prevention along with health care treatment and awareness. There are groups that specialize in substance abuse, mental illness, and local bereavement support groups. There are also local victim’s advocate groups that can be contacted through your local police department or sheriff’s office. Every year Utah Department of Health provides a list to its employees regarding the myriad of charitable organizations to which they can choose to donate. I cannot list them all, however, I would like to mention two that I’m most familiar with.
First of all there is National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) whose mission is to build better lives for those affected by mental illness. I have had an opportunity to participate in their annual walk that focuses on raising money and awareness for treatment and recovery for people with mental illness. I’m affiliated with this organization for two reasons. My initial purpose is personal as I’ve experienced the loss of several friends and family members by suicide due to mental illness: depression, bi-polar disorder, and substance abuse. Secondly, I’m associated with the University of Utah, Dept. of Psychiatry where I’ve been working with a team of researchers and doctors searching for understanding into suicide behavior.
As mandated by state legislature, Utah State Office of the Medical Examiner (OME) is responsible for investigating and examining every suicide death in the state. I take part in research at the University of Utah with hope that we might understand suicide behavior to a point that we can prevent intentional death with a substantial rate of success. It is hope that motivates me and helps me cope with the loss of friends and family as well as all the many people examined at the OME every day.
The best example I know for charity work is known locally as The Festival of Trees. If you’ve never attended this event please consider it for next year. In fact, now is the perfect time to begin planning next year’s donation since all Christmas decorations including artificial trees are on clearance to sale for the season. Everything displayed at the festival is donated and for sale. This includes elaborately decorated christmas trees, door wreathes, gingerbread houses, and homemade crafts. The best part is that 100% of the proceeds are returned to Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City. The money helps families with little means provide medical treatment to their children.
Each tree is donated and accompanied by a heart-touching story. The stories express gratitude and love, hope and humility, and sometimes happy endings. It can be difficult for me to read the stories as I walk through the forest of brightly decorated trees. Most of time I leave the reading to my wife who becomes flushed and tearful while I enjoy the plethora of Pez dispensers hanging from each branch of a white, artificial Christmas tree, or the Lego tree that must have cost a bundle of money to put together. You see, one of the coping mechanism I use while at work, besides humor, is dissociation. The stories that are familiar to me become real as I read them and the emotions I suppressed earlier (during the autopsy) come rushing back with a vengeance. That being said it is a good experience overall to see so many people come together to give hope and promise to others who may experience similar tragedy. (Speaking of myself, it isn’t healthy for a person to suppress so much emotion. My walk through the Festival of Trees is therapeutic for me. It helps me properly process each situation by witnessing positive resolution to tragedy. As I mentioned before, some of the stories have happy endings.)
Let us begin this new year with resolution that we will look for opportunities to help others. If we are the ones requiring help, then resolve to search it out. Allow others to help you. You may be surprised to find somebody who understands what you’re going through. You may find that by serving others you forget yourself and your own problems become secondary or even forgotten.
Happy New Year!