Clea’s death 207 weeks ago forced me to rethink my life and what a meaningful life may be. Her death came as a cataclysmic shock to me. I was totally unprepared. My whole reason for being folded beneath me and the profoundness and depth of my grief consumed me. All the norms and standards were lost – it is not the way of things for a child to die before her parents.
Like all parents who lose a child, I have considered why my daughter died. I guess I was looking for a reason, for an answer; the usual question, why my daughter, why our family? And the usual response deflects back, why not? There is no reason for her death. We were caught in a natural disaster.
Since then, I have grappled, not so much with the meaning of life, but with how to lead a meaningful life. It is interesting to read about how the universe formed and how we eventually evolved but that does not matter much on a day-to-day basis. Why we are here does not seem as important as what we do while we are here.
I have read and read and read a multitude of books in Clea’s absence (as you can see from the list on this blog). I read and I read seeking a reason, seeking some meaning; seeking a meaningful life or possibly a purposeful life.
I feel the need to atone for being alive. I have to atone for that split-second of indecision when I lost my daughter’s hand. I am not searching for a meaning for Clea’s death because there is none. I have been searching for a reason for me to continue to live and to make that life mean something.
To quote Dan Disney, I am interested in ideas not the banal. I want real meaning. I seek profound and intelligent meaning. With apologies to my yoga instructor and others, I do not want pithy, albeit well-meaning, positive statements or blogs sites. Yes, they sound nice and make you feel good for a few minutes but where is the depth and meaning behind that five minutes of ‘niceness’. I want more than ‘likes’ on my Facebook page. I do not want a sunny day or a pink sunset from the gods. I want substance. I want honesty. I want the truth without all the tinsel and decoration to make me feel better.
This does not mean that I am a negative person. I have two wonderful sons, a good relationship with my husband, a reasonable relationship with my family, a good job, a good standard of living, I am fit and healthy etc. I have nothing to complain about. But I see nothing positive in the death of my daughter. I do not accept the idea of nobility in suffering or destiny or fate. Her death has not made me a better person. Clea has died. That is it. I would sell my soul (if I had one) to the devil (if there was one) to bring her back.
In my pursuit for meaning, I have learned a lot about myself. I have rejected my religious upbringing; absolutely. I have learned that I am a principled person who has the courage of my convictions. I can be very confronting, which is upsetting for many people – close friends and family included. I deal with Clea’s death in my own way. I am honest and open. I will tell people how I feel. I will tell people about my daughter; if they are brave enough to listen. I will listen to other people’s stories. I try not to judge others. Grief is a very personal experience and we all cope in our own way.
I read books on philosophy and ideas as well as literary gems. I search these books for quotes and ideas that I can latch onto to frame another idea or another way of thinking. I am interested in the history of ideas and why people think the way they do; hence, I have an interest in religions and myths.
I am political and have always taken an interest in politics on an ideological basis (not so much the populism of the present in Australia). I am interested in how nations have developed and the ideas behind their social history. I find nationalism as bad as religion and I do wonder why the national anthem is played so often (I never sing). I do not watch commercial television or read tabloid newspapers. I would be hard pressed to have a conversation with anyone about contemporary popular culture. I have no interest in celebrities or their lives. I have trouble focusing on trivia. I seem to be missing the materialist gene – I hate shopping and do not see the point of purchasing for the sake of purchasing.
So what do I think is the meaning for life? It is often to easier to say what something is not, rather than what something is. I think you have to work out a meaning for yourself. To me, the idea of a god is irrelevant. The desire to live with dignity and integrity has nothing to do with a god. The ‘golden rule’ is a simple, easy to follow rule that has been around since man began to live in communities – treat others as you would have them treat you. Every single religion uses this rule; Confucius mentioned the rule in 600 BCE – ‘never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself’.
Imagine what the world would be like if we all kept this rule. If we were asylum seekers, would we want to be treated the way our governments dictate? Would we kill each other for sectarian reasons? Would we blame others for our lot in life? This rule helps people focus on this life not the so-called next life.
A meaningful life is a good and ethical life. It is a human life where all humanity is treated with respect and understanding. According to Greg M Epstein, the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, you should seek the best in yourself and others; pursue truth and honesty in all you do; be positive and constructive rather than negative and disrespectful; be healthy, balancing work, rest and play; and, respect your family and others. He should also include treating the planet with respect as it is the only planet we have.
It is the universality of humanity that matters not what will happen when we die. Trying to gain everlasting life is meaningless as it denies the reality of death, and without death there is no life.