When a tragic event or situation thrusts itself into our lives, a typical human response is to seek answers or explanations. When did it occur? Where did it occur? How did it occur? And above all, Why did it occur? We ask questions like these, even when we know that the event or situation may not be capable of being explained.
Consider just a few examples. A baby is born with a condition that is incompatible with life. A middle-aged woman who never smoked is diagnosed with lung cancer. An older man dies a particularly painful death. In each of these examples and many others, those who are attached to the individual in question and sometimes the individual himself or herself often ask: Why did this happen? We seek for answers because humans are accustomed to believe that there are patterns in the lives we live, that there always are reasons to explain the events we encounter.
We particularly seek answers when a death or other significant loss occurs suddenly. As we emerge from our initial shock, we make efforts to find a framework through which we can make the event understandable. The first answers we propose are not always very satisfactory in the long run. We are told that a baby was born with a condition that is incompatible with life because of some genetic abnormality in utero or because the older man developed a condition that is associated with pain that is difficult to treat. Okay, why cannot modern medical interventions respond to them in helpful ways?
When we press for one causal explanation after another, we may eventually find that there is no ultimate account that truly explains or throws light on what is happening in either of these cases. Some people simply give up the search for answers at that point. Others turn to faith, affirming that even if they don’t understand why such bad things happen, it is their conviction that these events are all part of a grand plan, even if the details of that plan are beyond us.
So perhaps in the end, our search does not always produce answers to explain why some events occur that challenge our conviction that the world in which we live is a good place. Even though our questions do not always produce answers that are ultimately satisfying, it may be that we need to find ways to trust that life is worth living whether or not we can fully explain why.
- Charles A. Corr, PhD, formerly chaired the International Work Group on Death, Dying, and Bereavement and is recipient of the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Death Education and Counseling. October 2022 edition of Journeys, a newsletter to help in bereavement.