In his new book, Mr. Kessler said that following the death of his son, “I knew I couldn’t and wouldn’t stop at acceptance. There had to be something more.”
That “more,” he concluded, is meaning. He calls it “the sixth stage of grief, the stage where the healing often resides.” It can take any one or more of many forms. It can, as Ms. Cohen has done, strive to keep others from being killed by a vehicle, or in Mr. Kessler’s case, from dying of an accidental drug overdose like the one that killed his son.
Some people find meaning through belief in an afterlife; for others it comes from recalling fond memories of the loved ones they lost. In my eulogy at the funeral for my father, who died of a heart attack in a Brooklyn supermarket in 1982, I said, “He died with his boots on, doing what he loved the most: shopping for food.”
Although there were many things wrong with how my mother’s death was handled 24 years earlier, this then 16-year-old found meaning in visiting her in the hospital every afternoon after school and being at her side when she took her last breath.
For Harriet Klein, a retired speech-language pathologist in New York, meaning came by compiling a book of poems called “Mourning Muse” she wrote following the death of her husband of 50 years. Likewise, Leslie Gerber of Woodstock, N.Y., immortalized his partner’s loss with a book of poems he called “Losing Tara: An Alzheimer’s Journey.”
Many families take great comfort in being able to donate organs of their deceased loved ones to save the lives of others. In his book, Mr. Kessler describes an extraordinary coincidence: The man who came to paint a family’s apartment turned out to have received a lifesaving kidney from the family’s 17-year-old son, who had succumbed to spina bifida four years earlier.
Mr. Kessler, who works as a grief counselor, speaker and author, wrote: “I found great meaning in knowing that I had turned my loss into a vocation that helps thousands survive the worst moments of their lives.”