how i made meaning out of tragedy

A guest post by Maria Mooney

The diagnosis of any illness, chronic, acute, or terminal, is a devastating, life-altering, earth-shattering, monumental moment in the life of the diagnosed individual, impacting all areas, including but not limited to vocation, social relationships, self-care, and recreational pursuits.

A devastating diagnosis challenges and often shatters world views and belief systems leaving the individual feeling confused, unsupported and out of control, questioning faith and facing his/her own mortality.

When I was told I had a “progressive and incurable” neurological disease at the age of twenty three, the diagnoses tore through my life like a category five hurricane toting 100+ mph winds, uprooting and ripping through every shred of hope and normalcy I had for my barely realized future and leaving me to feel fragile and exposed.

I hunkered down and gratefully made it through the eye of the illness storm, admittedly still in several pieces with the reconstruction of my life slowly beginning to take place despite the devastating destruction.

As I look back on my journey from the start to where I am sitting today, nestled comfortably (for the most part) in acceptance, one of the most important tools I used (and still use today) is that of “meaning making,” a transformative process where the individual finds explanations for and benefits from tragedy.

Meaning making allows for resiliency to be cultivated and hope to be restored as the diagnosed individual becomes the author of his/her own story as a dynamic, multi-faceted person living with a disease but not defined or controlled by it. The illness becomes a small but important piece of the life narrative and not the entire narrative, allowing for depth of character, pride, dignity, joy, and achievement despite the multiple losses, challenges, and disappointments often associated with the condition.

Asking “why” when a tragedy or trauma occurs and searching for acceptable answers are natural and normal responses to astronomical shifts in our lives. Sometimes, there are no tangible, scientifically observed and proven answers, and this is when meaning making can be especially helpful.

For me, I came to the conclusion that this illness occurred because it was necessary that I learn how to live well, discover my passions, gain direction, and learn how to serve the larger community instead of focusing on my own selfish desires.

Not only have I gained from this condition, but I truly believe the world has also and will continue to gain from it, as well. When the days become difficult, that is what I whisper to myself just before a meltdown occurs and my life begins to take form and purpose once again.

I’m not quite sure if meaning making comes before acceptance or acceptance before meaning making. It’s the classic “chicken or the egg” debate that includes viable and persuasive explanations on both sides of the argument.

Perhaps, meaning making and acceptance happen simultaneously, each one clearing space for the other to exist as life rafts rescuing hope, determination, and happiness from drifting out toward the horizon and just outside of our grasps. Either way, the future is much less daunting and the present is much more comfortable when they are surrounded by much more meaning.

About the Author

Maria Mooney, MSW, LSW, is a licensed social worker, high raw vegan blogger diagnosed with and healing from a progressive neurological disease, RSD/CRPS. She enjoys reading, writing, yoga, the sport of long distance running, spending time in nature, and being with her loved ones, especially her Goldendoodle, Shorter. You can find her on Twitter @HappyHealing44 and follow her at her blog

One Response to how i made meaning out of tragedy

  1. Noch Noch | be me. be natural. June 13, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    i echo every single word you wrote here. thanks for sharing.

    thanks for letting others share their stories here. empowering

    Noch Noch