I know how service heals – because it still heals me every day. Here are four reasons why serving others serves YOU more than anyone else.
After I lost my 4-year-old son, Drew, in an accidental drowning, I remember a woman I’d never met came up to me with a pretty bold idea.
She taught water safety to parents and kids in all different settings throughout the region – and she thought I should join her.
You see, when most parents think of water danger, they usually just think about pools, lakes or the ocean. But I lived in a rural town in Arizona, where there was lots of standing water: irrigation canals, water tanks, large water troughs and more. My Drew, for example, fell into an open irrigation canal that ran behind many of my neighbors’ and friends’ properties.
That’s why, she told me, she thought I had a unique opportunity to make a difference.
A Hidden Opportunity in Loss
All those years ago, that woman became the impetus for my decades-long commitment to serving others. And it all started with a simple suggestion.
When she talked to people, she could only hold their attention for so long. But me – with my story and experience, I would have a kind of credibility and intensity that people would truly pay attention to – whether they were parents or even young children.
Because of my pain, I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make an impact in other people’s lives.
I had the opportunity to help save other families from experiencing the very same pain I was living through.
And that gave me a sense of purpose for the very first time since Drew died.
The Impact of Service
Today, the dividends of that service have paid off time and time again.
Even 20 years later, I still run into the kids and families I’ve spoken to about water safety. Many of the kids were in elementary school when I first explained the dangers of water, and they still remember the story and advice I shared.
“I never forgot what you told me.”
“I always remembered to wait for an adult before going near water.”
“I still remember Drew.”
They’ve even told me that Drew’s story was the difference between life and death. One child reached out years later and said that they saved a younger family member because they knew to pay attention.
It’s incredible: Drew’s story has since saved lives and influenced so many families that we will never know the true impact of his life – except that his legacy will continue long after I leave this Earth.
The kids I spoke to will teach their kids, and those kids will watch out for others. And as the years pass, Drew’s story will be reshared.
And you know what? That’s an incredible feeling that brings peace to my heart and purpose to my soul.
Why Serving Others Heals YOU
After that experience, I knew in my bones how incredibly important it was to serve others – especially if you’re grieving. But what I didn’t know until later was how much it would actually save me.
It changed Drew’s accident – and the devastating fact that his life had been cut short – into a legacy that could be shared. It created a ripple effect that still lives on to this very day, and it’s so far-reaching I don’t know where it will end.
Then and now, that knowledge gives me a kind of purpose that can light up the darkest days. It creates fulfillment that still fuels me from one service project to the next.
In fact, serving others has had such a powerful impact on me that my entire professional life is now dedicated to helping others move through their deepest pain with the support and guidance I wish I would have in those early days.
And that’s the power of service for people who are grieving – whether that be the loss of a loved one, job, identity, home or anything else.
If you’ve walked through the fire, you have a unique opportunity to turn around and hand buckets of water to the people who are walking through that same fire, just steps behind you.
And if that doesn’t give you some kind of positive, empowering meaning to your loss, then I don’t know what will.
1. It gives you new purpose.
When you look for a way to serve others based on the unique learnings that came of your loss, you’re creating something good where only pain existed before. That gives you purpose. It gives you a reason to live, to wake up every day, to believe that your life matters again.
I started thinking about what I could do – instead of focusing on what happened to me. If I could help another family avoid this same tragedy, then I could turn something horrible and devastating into a chance to be a force of good in this world. And, for a while, that became my primary focus.
It lifted me out of the depths of despair.
2. It transforms the loss.
I believe there’s an opportunity to pull some amount of positive meaning and impact from even the most devastating and unthinkable tragedies. Through that process, tragedy can be transformed.
It can be transformed into a purpose or powerful lesson for someone else. It can be transformed into a new way of thinking or seeing the world. It can even be transformed into a movement for positive change.
There are so many examples of people who’ve taken their most tragic circumstances and transformed them into a foundation, organization or global conversation. What started as a loss transforms into the sole purpose of creating positive change.
3. It shifts your perspective.
One of the most powerful benefits I experienced while serving others was a shift in perspective.
For months, I was stuck in the “why” questions: Why did this happen? Why did it happen to my son? Why would God do this? Why? And let me tell you, after 20 years of grieving, there’s still no good answers to those questions.
When you begin turning that tragedy into purpose, however, it starts opening up the “what” and “how” questions. What can be done to make sure this never happens again? What needs to change so others can avoid this pain? What has helped other families? How can I create a different future? How can I be a force for good?
Service creates a whole new set of questions – with very important and powerful answers – that distract from the questions that have no good answers. It’s a perspective shift that helps you move from hopeless inaction to purposeful action.
4. It gives you a sense of control over the loss.
One of the hardest things about grief and loss is the sense of helplessness, the loss of control. There’s a disempowerment that settles in because you simply don’t know how to move forward with all this pain. For a while, I needed to sit in that pain – to let myself feel everything I needed to feel.
But eventually, I started to want something different. I started to believe that, maybe, I could live with joy again. I just didn’t know how.
For me, serving others provided me with one final mindset shift that made the ultimate difference. I realized I could either let this terrible experience happen to me, or I could choose to happen to the experience.
Let me explain: When going through hardship, what we choose to do about it can either be destructive, or it can be empowering for ourselves and others. While we can’t change what happened to us, we can take control of how we respond to it – and the outcomes that result from it.
For example, we can choose to use a tragic experience as an opportunity to create fresh purpose and positive change. For me, service was transformational for that very reason.
Ultimately, there’s a difference between allowing the experience to happen to you, and choosing to happen to the experience. And for me, that difference is service.
The Bottom Line
Nothing about grieving is easy, and choosing to find the opportunity to serve others when your own heart is broken is definitely not the easy road. But for me, it is the most meaningful road. And I’m not the only person who has transformed pain into purpose.
In fact, I thank God for the Drews of this world, for the Adam Walshs, the George Floyds, the Breonna Taylors. I thank God for the people who’ve stepped into survive to make this world a better place, simply because they loved someone deeply enough to carry on their legacy. They’re the ones who’ve truly made a difference, started conversations, and enacted cultural changes. They are the examples we need in order to move people on a global level.
We need the ones we’ve lost, and the ones who loved them, to guide us toward a better way of being – because the people who lead the charge are usually the ones who’ve been impacted in the most significant ways.
So, today, I ask you: What do you choose to do with what you cannot change?
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What do you choose to do with what you cannot change?
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The A.R.T. of Healing is a membership, resource and community for mothers who are moving through the pain of losing a child. Conversations and materials will focus on the three main shifts that occur once you’ve reached the point of acceptance.
When you have accepted that your reality is now different, and you’re ready to find hope and happiness again, then this membership will provide a creative framework for your healing journey – as well as the community to support you along the way.
It includes activities, journal prompts, meditations, rituals, affirmations, a 7-part video series of healing principles and exercises and more – all to support you as you transform from a life of loss to feeling spiritually whole and emotionally free.
Learn more here: melissahull.com/membership.