Re-Defining Purpose


For the past five years, those two words have caused me more angst than I care to think about. Yet, here I am thinking about them. I have found that after losing a child, their meaning becomes ever more poignant. Evidently, I am not alone. In my research on death and the meaning of life, I have found that religious and cultural influences on life and death are varied. But the one consistent thing I found from first-hand accounts of moms who have lost a kid, is that, vital to all of us coming out on the positive side of surviving a child's death, is finding a new purpose, or better, re-defining our purpose.

But if you think this just applies to moms who lose kids, you have it all wrong. Retiring after working 30 or 40 years in the same industry, moving from differing regions like let's say Germany to Arizona or even a major shift in family structure from many kids to empty nesters can leave us standing in the center of a room, arms extended, a face molded in shock and our minds and mouths gripping to the statement, "What now?"

The challenge with life is that if we are to grow from challenges and experiences then we have to continually reframe our thoughts, which in my experience is easier said than done!

Take me for example. After we lost our daughter, I just figured I would grieve forever (privately in the shower) and get on with life; you know, back to work, new fundraisers, volunteering, and back to my other kids and school events. And, honestly, I did just that until my mind imploded on itself. Somehow, in years prior to Kelli's death, I managed an office and consulting business, a household with a husband, three kids (one special needs), doctors appointments in state and out, an old Labrador and a young cat. My life was busy. Beyond busy, and after Kelli's death, I realized I like it that way. No, actually, I need it that way.

Even though Kelli was special needs (she had a double-lung transplant when she was three months old), she really was not. Other than doctors appointments, medications twice a day, laboratory work monthly and an occasional rejection episode, she was totally normal. I mean, if you met her on the street, you would not know she had such a difficult start. She went to public school, took ballet and tap, played the piano, swim lessons, etc. We were busy but we were normal.

When she died, I not only lost the "regular" kid to do list for her, but also the "non-regular" to do list and though I never thought of any of it as anything other than normal, when all of it came to a screeching halt, I had this HUGE space that was filled with nothing! That nothing just about drove me nuts because it was a constant reminder that she had died. I HAD to reframe my thoughts or I was not going to make it through Kelli's death. Thus, like other mothers who have lost a child, I slowly started re-defining my purpose.

Re-defining one's purpose requires us to examine the definition of success. You, your spouse, your family, career, community, and even television can really screw that up for us.

  • Success.
    There is no one definition of success. There, I said it!
    Our mind makes future decisions based on our past experiences and the fear of losing what we have often prevents us from making necessary changes and moving forward. Re-defining, by definition, gives you the opportunity to do things that feel right to you. Whether it be work, family, love or play. There is no rush, no deadline. You set the pace.
  • Think about what you love to do.
    Being a Type A personality and results driven, I have put my loves and passions on the back burner so many times. Sometimes it was realistic to do so as I had a lifestyle and family to provide for, but after Kelli's death my mind frame shifted from what I had to do to fill that void to filling it with something I wanted and loved to do. I decided to become a life coach in order to fulfill my desire to mentor others. It required me to give up the comfort of a regular salary, a secretary, and a guarantee of more work with less help. But I was finally willing to take the risk.
  • Create lists, T-charts and journals.
    I love lists. Create a list for what you love to do, why you love what you love, and what brings you joy. Create a list of things that you are good at - your skills and expertise, and one for your talents and strengths. Create an idea list and a book list. Journaling helps create a record of things that have happened or our hopes and desires for the future. Writing these thoughts down as well your lists and t-charts (pros on one side, cons on the other) allows them to be used as reference tools when the timing is right. Not being a morning person, I find journaling at the end of the day much easier to do. I can make a quick inventory of the day and include what is important. While journaling in the morning before the day begins is great for many people, I find with each new day I forget much of the details of the prior day.
  • Find your passion.
    Finding your passion is not always easy. Utilizing the lists, charts and journals mentioned above are a perfect way for you to start seeing a trend when things are not as apparent as you would like. Find something YOU WANT to CHANGE or fix. Then ask and answer "why". Your "why" answer is important. It can be used to remind yourself as to why you are doing what you are doing. It is important to stay connected to the why, especially on bad days, when things do not go as you want. And, in all honesty, those days will happen.
  • Focus.
    Focus on what you want, and NOT on what you don't want. Focusing on what you do not want only serves the purpose of reinforcing the negative. Just don't do it!
  • What is said of you in your last 20 minutes on earth.
    I once read a story that stated the whole of a person's life will be summed up in 20 minutes. I use this somewhat morose statement as my motivator to do what feels right to me and my inner being. I hope what is said of me in that last 20 minutes reinforces all the good that I have done, for my gifts are not mine to keep but to share.
  • Personal Vision Statement.
    Writing a personal vision statement is hard work, but it is time well spent. It requires you to accurately and honestly evaluate your strengths, skills and expertise (see above) and couple them with what you desire in order to create an empowered identity necessary to achieve your goals. Life is BIG. Your vision should be even BIGGER! Your vision statement is a very powerful tool because it tricks your brain into believing you have already achieved the result(s) you most desire.
  • Reward yourself.
    I know this might seem silly, but it is not. Funny thing, people will reward children for doing their homework and chores, and spouses for remembering special dates or noticing a change. Notice that we reward each other in the hopes of guaranteeing that like acts will follow suit. Why not use that same psychology on yourself? Rewards, small and large, serve as the encouragement that you deserve!

Re-defining your purpose takes work. Integrity and a realistic picture of who you are and where you want to go are huge for shaping yourself and create a grander vision of the future you. It is also the good stuff that fills that empty void that haunts all of us and throws us off balance when our life is in transition. Reframing our thoughts is a continual task, but that constant reframing is what builds an empowered you. So dig in!

Ursula Neal

Ursula is a grief coach for mothers who have lost children helping them to move from crappy to happy again. She is also a personal growth strategist helping individuals reach their goals. She may be reached at 602-400-4423 or Facebook Google+

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