I am sure that some people will be challenged at the idea of pain as a gift. When I thought of this title and subject for a blog it was a result of having learned at the park that a lady I had met and grown close to was dying, she had been so kind to me when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. She gave me a card and in it she wrote:
You will be surprised at how strong you can be.
I wasn’t sure of what to make of it at the time but her words have proved to be true. I am feeling stronger since this diagnosis and facing up to the treatment, but I am also feeling the profoundness of life’s journey, I am reconsidering many things I have gone through and what I have made of them, I am also very much contemplating my own mortality and most especially that of my mother.
When I heard the news about my friend I felt so much for her daughter who is prepared to let her mother go and sad that I probably won’t get to say goodbye and tell her how true her words proved to be.
After her daughter walked away, I thought of my own Mum and the pain she has endured in her own life. I was motivated to call my Mum and she isn’t feeling at all well, has been struggling with her health for such a long time. I cant help but feel so much of the loss and pain she has been through, much of the grief has had to be born by a person who is almost unable to contain it and it has taken a toll on her body.
I was out at a local café when we spoke. When I arrived home, a well of grief burst open in me. I experienced flashes of our mutual experiences of loss, the breakdown and abandonment of my sister, my fathers’ cancer diagnosis and rapid death, my two sister’s struggle with emotions and mental illness, and of the impact all of this has had on my Mum.
When my only now living sister tried to take her life it was my mother who found her on the floor in the bathroom and had to call the ambulance. Because she “didn’t want to worry” me, I only found out the next day. My mother endured that entire ordeal alone. She was trying to spare me more pain as she knew I, too was struggling with my own depression at that time.
We have endured so much it seems, so much more than many other families, but certainly not all. And it seems a difficult ask to see the gift in this pain which makes me consistently aware of the profound fragility and vulnerability of life and people and yet, at this stage in my life, this is how I am now beginning to see it.
What is the point of arguing with reality? Isn’t there a time when we have to open to the random nature of life, when we have a choice to accept that things often work out far differently from what we may have hoped? And also that there is no escape from the grief?
It seems to me that grief is not the final word when we embrace things in this way, hard as it is and as much pain and torment as we go through to get through this dark night of the soul, there is a burnished gold which is made of the blackness when we have done the necessary work.
Our view is deepened. We see things from a different perspective and we value all the more the precious gift of life we are given, choosing to open to the pain as well as the beauty all around us.
Anne Frank wrote these words in 1944.
I don’t think of all the misery,
but of the beauty that still remains.
There is a profound poignancy that results from this pain I currently feel around my Mum. There is a growing sense of forgiveness and gratitude for the ways in which she tried to love. I see how she had to carry on in very extreme and lonely circumstances as a child. My heart aches for her and for the consequences of this extreme self reliance and yet I see the wisdom in it too. We can be with others, we can share our pain, but at the deepest level it is our gift or our burden and we must find ways to live with that, to celebrate and give voice to it, so we know that all of our suffering has not been in vain.