The conversation is always the same, only the names and minor details change. It goes something along the lines of "Your brother is in a better place. God had a purpose for his death. He was needed up in heaven. Blah, blah, blah." I always quietly bite my tongue and don't reply. I really want to rip those empty platitudes to shreds. But in the end, that wouldn't really change the way I feel.
I thought more and more about this very common response to loss. I think it reflects an innate human need to find meaning and purpose in an event that disrupts our world view to its very core. Things we clung to no longer seem true so we try to erect the same house of cards, hoping this time it will withstand the winds. Our psyche and society has difficulty with accepting it on the terms of "shit happens." So we need to turn it into something good and full of purpose. Then we can get back to the business of living in our still intact world view.
Only that doesn't work so well. At least for me. I believe it cuts our internal journey short and closes too many doors into our soul. "My brother is happy and in a happy place now so I can now go back to my life. Pain over." That would be temptingly easy to adopt. But I don't believe it. Not even for a second. In it's place, I adopt a different strategy. We cannot change the circumstances of a tragic loss. Buildings fall, diseases happen, cars collide, and people die. That cannot change. The only possibility is what I do with that tragedy. Do I become jaded and embittered? Do I push it down and pretend it didn't happen? Or, do I befriend the notion that pain comes in all manners and different forms? To find a purpose, I know which choice will make me a more caring and empathetic doctor, nevermind a more soulful person.
So instead of assigning purpose that absolves us of any choice, responsibility or duty (he's in a better place, God had a purpose, etc), I decide to create purpose from my actions after the fact. That's a much, much more difficult proposition. Suddenly, I'm now responsible for growing out of a tragedy. There is no getting over it, moving on, or getting back to a normal life. The choice is a downward spiral, stagnation of a status quo, or a painful growth by befriending pain. I must create my purpose and recovery or risk falling. Scary stuff. Studying for school would seem easier at this point but my brain just won't let that happen.