Your "Why" Will Make You Cry

Your “Why” Will Make You Cry

Many times in my life, I thought I uncovered my life's purpose.  It wasn't until I experienced the worst that could happen, that I recognize our greatest purpose might come from our greatest sorrow.

There is one profound common experience I believe we all share...we’re on a quest to find that one thing that we can finally say “Ah, that’s why! That was my purpose for living.”

photo by Jim de Girolamo
As a little girl growing up in Monterey, California, I was often teased because of my fiery red hair, white skin, and freckles. I remember one cruel boy spit in my face and shouted, “I’d rather be dead than red!” I ran to the girls’ bathroom holding back tears as I wiped the mean boy's spit from my face. I stifled a sob and gazed into the mirror at my little red haired self. I felt ugly for the first time in my young life.

Yes...I'm the red head
That boy’s bullying made me cry, but it also fueled my drive to do something unique and remarkable, even if I did have red hair. That whisper of possibility came to fruition when a musical group called Up With People toured my hometown. It was my “Glee.”

At the age of 16, I flew to New York to join the national cast.  I sang and danced my way around the world. It was the time in our country when we still struggled with the loss of our beloved President Kennedy, we were in the throes of war in Vietnam, the Hippie culture preached “Free Love and Peace,” and drugs seduced young people into an altered state.

But this was my platform and a stage to declare my uniqueness, along with the multicultural cast of people who joined me in a celebration of life.

Singing in Venice Italy
photo courtesy of dusty Araujo 
While touring Italy in the Spring of 1968, our cast received the tragic news of the deaths of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. How could this have happened? I thought I was changing the world one song at a time.

I couldn’t define the impact of this unfamiliar grief. It was a different kind of sad than when my grandmother died.  The assassination of those two great men brought us all to common ground as we profoundly mourned the loss of our heroes and the demise of the future with those men as guiding lights.

Our next tour was Africa. We were invited to perform for the heads of the African Nations at the OAU, singing our songs in their language, Lingala, French, and Swahili. After the performance we feasted on lavish steak dinners, finishing with flaming Cherries Jubilee.

The next day, we journeyed deep into the heart of bush country. We stopped at the villages and met hungry, swollen bellied children. Those children were malnourished and we were well fed. I felt helpless, and conflicted.
In the Congo,
photo courtesy of Helen Hill-Stephens

They huddled around me, curious and intrigued by my bright red hair. They affectionately stroked my freckled arms. I sang for them in their native language, Lingala. They bashfully hugged me with delight.  My song was the only nourishment I could offer.

A few years ago, I saw Oprah’s “Favorite Guest,” Dr. Tererai Trent, a Zimbabwean woman, married at 11, and had three children by 18, but a spark in her had the seed of a dream.

Missionaries came to her village, and told her to write down her heart’s desire. She etched her thoughts on a piece of tin and buried it under a tree. She dreamed of an education and moving to America to earn a college degree. She did all of that, and more…in fact, she earned her PHD. 

I thought about those swollen bellied children I’d met decades ago in the Congo. Could my presence in 1968 have had an impact on their lives? Could I have awakened their heart’s desire? And that revelation made me cry. I began looking at the things I’d done that may have sparked the light in someone else’s life.

When my daughter was born with a facial cleft, she taught me everything about the beauty of imperfection. I realized it was my calling to educate other children. I wrote fairy tales to help all children who felt different. I did talk shows, wrote articles, and went into schools with my best friend, actress Melissa Gilbert (Little House on the Prairie), to raise awareness. I had a profound purpose…to pave the way for my child and others like her.

I thought I had life figured out. Hand me a challenge and I'll just go to war with the cause. That was, until, I experienced the worst that could happen.
Toward the end of my 42nd year, life dropped me to my knees. My 16 year old son woke up with fever and was dead the next morning. Just that quick. The doctor’s misdiagnosis of the flu turned out to be the silent deadly killer, bacterial meningitis. 

How can you possibly go on when you've lost a child? Grief is everywhere and in every breath you take. There's a reason why people call the death of a child “the worst that can happen. 
Because it is. 
The loss of a child changes every chapter in your book of life. 
My beautiful boy Garrett

Every morning I'd wake up and know without a doubt that it would just be a matter of moments before I'd remember my son died and it would stab me in the gut every time. It was unbearable and I wanted to hide in my room and turn my life over to the sadness that consumed every part of me.

Then, I would hear my 1 year old son, Jackson, calling out to me and I had no choice.  I had to continue being a mother to my three living children. Their childhood deserved more than my best. They lost someone too, and I couldn't let Garrett's death take their mommy or their childhood away. 

In the course of my commitment to healing, I began to write in my journal. As I poured over the pages and saw my journey of grief, I realized I was doing something important. I was recording my healing in words. And, I became aware that in this master plan of my life, my story could possibly help other bereaved parents.

And that’s when I had to resurrect purpose from my most painful “why.” The “why” borne from the darkest grief of the worst that can happen, the death of my beautiful child. 

And so, I wrote a step-by-step guide for parents entitled “How to Survive the Worst that can Happen.” Even in his death, my son now continues to change lives…most of all mine. And that
My book for parents who have lost children
thought makes me cry.

Your “why” can come from your greatest joys and sometimes, your greatest sorrows, but it’s all part of building a life that matters.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
  • 1.     Allow change to be a driving force in your life. Often, the loss of a dream is the launching pad for discovering your destiny.
  • 2.     Sometimes, the thing that makes you different is the very thing that people will remember in a positive way.
  • 3.     What are you waiting for? Discover what’s holding you back. Life Coach Max Simon says, “People will change when they’ve suffered enough.” Recognize how far you’re willing to go before making a change.
  • 4.     If money weren’t an issue, what would you be doing? I know for a fact, I would still be writing, even if I had millions in the bank. Writing fuels my passion for life.
  • 5.     Obstacles create possibilities. Look at major life changing events, losses, or roadblocks to success as opportunities.
  • 6.     This one is important...write a list of all the things you’ve accomplished that have brought enlightenment to others.  It will be a resource of inspiration. It can be something like making an apple pie for a friend, donating your time at a charity function, or building a home for Habitat for Humanity.
  • 7.     Your “Why” should make you cry.  Above all, your mind, your heart, and your soul will know when you’ve found your “Why,” because the emotion will pool deep from within and will bring you tears of knowing…. and there’s no doubt you will cry.

My husband and I recently returned to Italy
where we both performed In Up With People
In 1968
After my husband died at 54, I thought I would never find love again. Two years ago, I received a message on Facebook from one of the men I traveled with in Up With People. He remembered me as “The beautiful redhead.” I wish I had known back then, I was beautiful.
Guess what…I married him! Destiny chose him for me in this second half of my life, way back in 1967! He was one more  “why” that came from my travels long ago. 

Julianne by Erin Muller
And my daughter Julianne? She was always beautiful...but look at her.
Now that makes me cry.

Ask yourself, “What is my why?” Be open to the possibility there may be more than just one thing that summarizes your “why.”

Look to your past for clues. Life is not a linear journey. It has ups and downs, tragedies and triumphs.  It transforms us to a higher level… revealing our “Why.”

I recognize that now, and that thought makes me cry.

Sandy Peckinpah is the host of a radio show, Passion By Design on KRXA 540 Am Talk Radio. She's the author of several books, her newest being “How to Survive the Worst that can Happen,” a parent’s step by step guide to healing after the loss of a child, written from her own experiences (available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Balboa Press). Her blog, www.BreakthroughToHappy addresses an array of inspiring subjects from transformation, grief, and resilience.. Sandy welcomes your inquiries: Visit her website


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