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For a Reason

The addage "Everything happens for a reason" is a saying which usually imparts comfort. However, for bereaved parents this sentence is comprised of some of the most painful words they could ever hear. Here is why.

Say I trip over and break my arm. As a result I can’t play the violin in the recital I have been waiting all my life to perform in.

To cheer me up, someone might say “Everything happens for a reason.” They mean to say that by not performing in the recital, I might now have time to pursue another worthy endeavour, and to try and see the silver lining.

But the reason I fell and broke my arm isn’t some cosmic gift of purpose or meaning: my shoe laces were untied and I tripped.

I might well come to do or be something I would not have been able to had I played in the recital. But my transformation will occur as an unintentional side effect of having had a broken arm; whatever I come to do or be as a result was not intended by tripping over.

Say a woman looses her baby and someone says “Everything happens for a reason.” They are technically right, in the sense that “reason” means “cause”: the reason her baby died was because of a chromosomal abnormality, say, or because blood flow through the umbilical cord was impeded.

But that message is not what the person is intending to convey. The person is uttering the phrase with the intention of comforting the bereaved mother. “Reason” is not used to mean “cause” - it is used to refer to “meaning”.

There is apparently purpose or meaning in the death of her child; although understanding these things is beyond us mere humans.

Be mindful of the implication here.

“Everything happens for a reason” also means

“Everything that happens is the way it ought to be”;

which also means:

“It is good and right that your baby died.”

Remember this when you tell a bereaved parent that everything happens for a reason and believe that this will be comforting.

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