Throughout my mom’s illness and during the aftermath, a number of people stopped short with me. They sucked in their breath when starting to complain about a problem they had, or minimized their pain regarding a certain issue. “You know, this is nothing compared to what you are going through” or “I shouldn’t even be telling you this.” If I were more of an orator and less of a writer, maybe I would have told them this:
Buddha had it right. We are human so we suffer. We suffer and we suffer and we suffer. Your pain is real, as though it was wound up in the helix of your DNA. Maybe you still have a healthy mother. But you have walked through other challenges that I have not experienced. My pain doesn’t separate us, in fact it brings us closer. We are united in the experience of loss.
To say that all human suffering is equal is both true and not true. There are tragedies which chill us to the core, which break a human being, which cause entire communities to light candles and whisper and shed tears. War crimes. Torture. Abuse. I’m not speaking of these horrors, which seem so senseless and wrong but do teach us that there is no limit to human suffering. I am speaking of more of our everyday tragedies. Illness, heartbreak, disappointment, death. Even the wealthiest and the most blessed walk beside us with these.
Suffering is something that cannot be escaped, so don’t deny your feelings. They are real, they make you human. At the same time, listen to others. I take care of cancer patients, but I have never had cancer. I hear their stories 5 days a week, and while I have never had a somber doctor stand over me and tell me its growing, its spreading, I need chemo or surgery or radiation, tell me I may lose my hair, my fertility, my limb, or my life, I understand a little bit (not entirely, but a little bit) of what they go through. Their stories help me find gratitude, help me appreciate the transient gift of health. Maybe my story helps you find gratitude for the mother that you have, whether she is your best friend or someone you barely know.
In losing what we love the most, we are shown the one thing we can hang on to: a spirit which is beautiful and buoyant and resilient, more than we ever imagined it to be. In our pain and suffering, we can become teachers, we can inspire. Our tears, our long nights on hard floors, our deep hunger has brought us to where we are today. The darkness has taught us to appreciate the light.
See, your story is important– as important as you are. I want to hear it from your lips, your pen or your flying fingers.