Finding Meaning in Tragedy

[Please note: The views and opinions expressed in each post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of BayNVC as a whole.]

     “Be patient towards all that is unresolved in your heart and learn to love the questions themselves.”  Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Sometimes we may not understand why certain things occur in our lives. Whether we are experiencing tragedy, loss, or affliction, we can trust that something bigger is at work in the midst of our trial.

Nina Kessler is a parent who tells of a tragic event that changed her life forever – an event that made her question how God could allow such a thing to happen. She said that at the time it was (in her mind) the worst thing that could possibly happen.

She writes in a newsletter called HAND (Helping After Neonotal Death) in Vol. 5 Issue 2:

“My daughter Amanda was five months old to the day when she died following open-heart surgery in January 1983. Today, Amanda (I still love that name) would be 22 years old – a grown woman. And yet I only see her through pictures, as a baby.

“The experience of Amanda entering my life has opened many doors that would have seemed highly unlikely prior to her time on earth. After her passing, I became a Hospice volunteer at Community Hospice and was later hired in 1986 as Bereavement Parent Support Facilitator. In 1989, I was promoted to Pregnancy & Infant Loss Coordinator and Bereavement Coordinator.

“This led to graduate school where I completed my master’s in social work (MSW) in 1999 at California State University, Stanislaus. Since 1999, I have served as a social worker providing counseling therapy services. I am currently halfway toward obtaining my LCSW.

“Over the years, my perspective and feelings regarding my grief has changed, or rather evolved, as I like to say. Thank God.

“The rituals, however, are still very important to me. Every Christmas, my two teenage sons and spouse of 27 years hang special ornaments on our Christmas tree that have Amanda’s name or picture on them. I made some of them with the original Hospice support group way back in the 80’s. On Amanda’s birthday, we release one balloon to her. We stand in a circle in our backyard, hold hands, say a big prayer or message, and watch as the balloon sails toward the sky until it’s out of sight.

“I can’t imagine the direction my life would have taken had it not been for Amanda. What twenty-two years ago was the worst thing that could have happened, transformed into a blessing in my life that has guided me in every way. Perhaps it was her purpose in life. Despite the tragedy of losing a helpless baby, and subsequent wondering why God could let such a thing happen, Amanda’s light touched many. She left a legacy that changed my life forever.”

I picked up this newsletter at work many years ago. It was lying on a table. The story caught my attention and moved me deeply and has remained with me ever since. Whenever I am going through a difficult trial, I remember that I am not alone and that there is a purpose for why I am going through the trial.

Recently, the death of George Floyd, 46, sparked anger, hurt, angst, and a deep desire for justice. Floyd died on May 25, 2020 after a police officer pressed his knee into his neck while Floyd repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe.” The encounter was caught on video and led to protests around the world and the largest civil rights movement to date.

This tragic event led to a movement that united millions of people across the world. What happened to Floyd is awful and horrific and did not need to happen. And it also sparked a movement that needed to happen so that police departments could be reformed, and justice could prevail.

In the midst of anguish, we can find meaning and purpose. I believe Floyd’s death will not be in vain and will lead to monumental systemic change that is very much needed.

This is an excerpt from Eddie’s newly released book Principles and Practices of Nonviolence: 30 Meditations for Practicing Compassion.

Eddie Zacapa is the founder of Life Enriching Communication, a certified trainer with The Center for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC) and the author of Principles and Practices of Nonviolence: 30 Meditations for Practicing Compassion and Essentials for Cultivating Passionate Volunteers and Leaders. Eddie has worked in the domestic violence field for 19 years dedicating his life to ending the cycle of violence. You can visit his website at and his blog at