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If you’ve asked yourself this question, you know that the loss of a loved one is often accompanied by another profound loss—the loss of basic assumptions about how the world works. For many of us, our assumptions go something like this: the world is a benevolent place; the world makes sense (perhaps related to our spiritual beliefs); and I’m a good person who deserves good things.
These and other beliefs develop as we grow up. They’re rarely examined until our worlds are shaken by a traumatic event. As we reflect on our beliefs, we are involved in the very important process of rebuilding our “assumptive world.” Our assumptive world is a term used to describe the way we look at things. This viewpoint assists us in guiding our plans, expectations, and actions, which provide the underlying trust to engage in productive living. It is a difficult process that requires hard work, and that usually has one of the following outcomes:
It may not have been clear to us at first, but upon reflection we find that our existing beliefs explain what happened. We may not like it, but the world as we understood it before the tragedy still makes sense to us.
We do this because we need to find a new and more satisfying answer to the question of how bad things happen to good people. These answers often help us come to terms with our loved one’s death.
The world becomes a barren place, and we become bitter and discouraged. When this happens, it’s important to realize that discovering some things we believed about the world aren’t true is not the same as none of our beliefs being true.
Here, our understanding of how the world works becomes less concrete, leaving more room for mystery. It’s no longer necessary to have an explanation for everything. We may be able to develop this more complex world view in the context of our current spiritual community, or we may need to seek a new one.
If you are struggling to make sense of the world after the death of your loved one, you are not alone. Loss forces us to confront our most basic beliefs about how the world works. We need to search until we find answers if we are to put our lives back together–a job that is not only important for us personally, but also for our families, our friends, and our communities.