Survivor missions: WE HAVE much in common

Despite the vast variety of activities, initiatives, and organizations that have emerged from human responses to the experience of loss and trauma, survivor missions have many qualities in common. They exist in many forms, from concrete engagement with a particular individual to more abstract, intellectual pursuits, to dramatic social and political action and movements. And all survivor missions recognize that we have survived. Others have died, and we may have suffered much, but we are alive and, as survivors, we can bring about changes in our world. We undertake our sacred mission in the name of our loved ones.


One typical quality of a survivor mission is a desire to help others through the power of altruism. Some survivors, like me, want to tell the truth (and tell it in public) by speaking truth to power. All of us want to add goodness to this life by doing good.

Spiritual alchemy

Some survivors and authors, such as Joanne Jozefowski, describe this type of work as “spiritual alchemy” (“Rising from the Ashes of Grief”).

Our activism transforms something harmful into something beneficial.

Some or all of the following seven avenues may open to us when we do this sacred work:

  1. Contribution: doing something or giving something to those in need
  2. Connection: resisting isolation, participating in humanitarian events, and being part of the community at large
  3. Communication: listening to others’ pain and fear and communicating positive themes and messages of hope
  4. Caring: being aware of who needs help and doing what we can
  5. Compassion: understanding, tolerating, and accepting others’ differences
  6. Ceremony: creating and participating in rituals, memorials, religious, and other services that honor the lives and deaths of our loved ones and
  7. Commitment: pledging and demonstrating our commitment to peace and camaraderie (adapted from Jozefowski, “Rising from the Ashes of Grief”;

Sacred activism

Sacred activist, Andrew Harvey calls this work “sacred activism”. His book is called “The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism”. Harvey tells us that “an extraordinary lineage has arisen of ordinary people who have fused deep spiritual knowledge, experience, and practice, with wise, incessant action for justice and peace. Having emerged against all the odds, they accomplished the unimaginable.”

That describes my experience.


In my devout Sufi friends, Rose Gardener and David Dacus, I find a model of spiritual care for others that informs my activism and helps me make meaning out of what is happening naturally in my soul.

Rose Gardener

Of all my Australian friends, Rose is probably the most spiritually adept. Helping me navigate the rapids and eddies of the wide river of my grief, she knows precisely what to do and how to do it. (Or so it seems to me; she would never say that!)

Rose Gardener, December 2017, Nimbin Cemetery

When I reflect on the love and support I receive from Rose, so many treasured memories emerge. As I explained earlier, Rose is always able to reframe my problem as a blessing. Her practical and physical help are invaluable: from moving furniture, to cementing in Karl’s gravestone and planting and weeding his gravesite, to reframing my disappointments, to giving me a place to live and then comforting me hugely when I lost it.

In the early stages of my healing journey, although she does not live nearby, Rose is readily available to “midwife” my growth. While never letting me believe my own story exclusively, she encourages my direct communication with Karl and comments in detail on every word I write. She consistently reminds me of the sacred quality of my life with Karl and the preciousness of his soul. Rose explains that my happiness is God’s happiness and that God wants what I want. For her, preparing and tending to Karl’s grave are acts of honoring.  She feels peace and rightness in those activities, and she models service to me. And she is consciously modelling the process of saying yes to life. 

Rose is also deeply compassionate. She realizes more than anyone else that every step forward that I take I am taking with half of me missing. And that that requires tremendous courage. I am choosing to say,  “I am bereaved, and I can,” rather than “I am bereaved, and I cannot.” 

Rose says little and does much. When pressed to explain what was happening to me in my journey, she offers this comment in late September 2019:

“You have moved to happiness in your soul and in Karl’s soul through your journey, your activities to get the road repaired, and through Bless this Road. You found something that was doable that was also yours to do, and you did it. In doing that, you did a service to your self as well: turning that into a noble thing.”

Rose then says a bit more:

“Your gratitude at Bless this Road acknowledged the people who have travelled on the journey with you (and who journeyed with all of us). Healing is like an equilibrium that has happened because you have been honest about your deep feelings about your life with Karl and your relationship with him after his passing. ”

David Dacus

David Dacus

During several in-depth conversations in person and by telephone over three-plus years, San-Francisco-based David Dacus, an architect (who has been my dear friend since 1978), educates me about the Sufi emphasis on service (or servitude). (Actually, David and I have been talking about this for decades!)

Both David and Rose immediately grasp the powerful significance of my road safety activism, recognizing it as “service”.

Like Rose, David constantly reminds me of the good and the blessings in both Karl’s life and his death. His enlarged view brings a sense of humor to my often despairing perspective on life. David reframes my situations with me and for me. From a spiritual perspective, he explains what happens when a person dies. David treats Karl with a real “lightness”, seeing him not as dead but as a being whose existence we must acknowledge, respect and honor.

David models, as does Rose, deep and attentive listening.

Both of my friends led me to their favorite sacred writing, mostly about happiness.

Importantly, both Rose and David notice what I am slow to see but what Francis Weller highlights in his work with grieving people: “My soul needed this activism to feel alive” (

* * *

Sacred, spiritual, or conscious activism are other terms that describe making a commitment and taking action in the name of a lost loved one.  And, while the focus of my activism (road safety) is initially utterly unfamiliar to me, the general nature of the activist processes and the feelings that arose in me are to some degree familiar.

And I can sense that these processes and feelings are also familiar to Karl, my celestial advocate.

May 2007