"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Pain is Personal

By Micky Wolf

The reality of pain, life, and death made headlines in recent weeks in a manner which upset a lot of people. And necessarily so. A young woman with less than six months to live had made public her decision to choose when and how she would die. According to various reports, her primary motivation was to avoid the extended time of incredible suffering that was inevitable for her and her family, even with the best palliative care available.

Plenty of forums have discussed the moral and legal ramifications of her decision. To further complicate matters, there are those who believe the issue of pain—how much, how long, root cause—hinges on whether or not the person is dealing with terminal illness or disease, or, sadly, is reaping the consequences of a series of unhealthy life choices.

Death and dying is a difficult subject to address under the best of circumstances. At the very least, it is to engage with the unsettling, up close, and personal reminder of our own mortality.

Regardless of the origin or cause, we know this to be true: pain is personal—the way we describe it, the way we tolerate it, the way we choose to accept or deny it. What you consider nearly unbearable, I might consider little more than a strenuous walk in the park, and vice versa.

Common ground…

All of us experience physical pain. A broken this or that, a strained something or other, an achy whatchamacallit.    

Then there are the matters of the heart, no less uncomfortable and miserable, and in some cases, arguably much harder to live with or overcome.

A spouse who cheats, physically or emotionally.

A friend or family member who forgets, ignores, or disappears from a relationship without so much as a goodbye, let alone an explanation.

Being the subject of gossip or lies that have no basis in truth.

And certainly children are not exempt from pain. Ask anyone old enough to string a few words together and there will be stories of bullying or mistreatment by siblings or peers.

If then, all of us suffer to some extent, why do we seem so short on compassion and patience when another person might need our loving attention the most?

When personal is being a pain…

Whatever the explanation for our lack of sensitivity to others, this is an area where the “I” can seem to pop up with uncomfortable predictability: a) “When I went through that…” or; b) “It could be worse…” or c) “Pray about it—you just need to have more faith and trust God.”

Pardon the directness, but if we’re honest, what we may think when we hear comments like these is something akin to “Bull crap! This isn’t about you! NOT what I needed to hear, thank you very much.”

God would have us console with the consolations with which we have been given. Yet, if we hope to offer the kind of love and encouragement that nourishes the soul and spirit of the one who is hurting, it is imperative we focus on them rather than dragging ourselves front and center. Otherwise, we risk commiserating with an attitude that lacks authenticity and validation. Rather than feeling supported, the recipient is left with the bitter taste of 

Maybe you did “go through that.”

Maybe you “have had it worse or know someone who did.”

Maybe you can and do “pray about anything, everything, anytime,” with mostly amazing results.

Doesn’t matter.

The person in pain—which by their definition means suffering affecting the quality of their life—does not need our admonitions to “suck it up, take a pill, or get an attitude adjustment”—or whatever else we might deem helpful.

The person in pain often simply needs…someone to listen, to hold their hand, to be a shoulder. And yes, in some situations, they would appreciate being left alone for a while as they work through the suffering. One of the most meaningful gifts we can offer is that of respect—asking them what they need—without assuming we know best.

The real test…

Pain is not something reserved for the aged or disabled, although the likelihood there will be more of it as we get older is an uncomfortable truth in and of itself. Suffering is an equal opportunity provider at any given moment. If the infant flailing into pinkness in the birthing room could talk, we might hear, “Put me back—it’s darn cold out here and the light hurts my eyes!”

There is little doubt modern science and medicine have provided us with an array of choices and opportunities unheard of a mere decade ago. Yet with all that is good, there will also be occasions when the line between being wise and moral or selfish and sinful will be difficult to separate. Why? Free will. And the very real fact none of us will ever truly know the choice we would make unless or until we find ourselves in the kind of the kind of situations that challenge every fiber of our physical, emotional, or psychological being.

We can say, “No, I won’t do that”, or “Yes, I will do that”, but when push comes to shove—when we are in the midst of the reality of our or a loved one’s pain and suffering—we can only pray, hope, and persevere to cooperate with God’s grace and make choices that are grounded in Divine Truth and Love.

Pain and suffering are personal, in a public sort of way. If we lack any understanding of that precept, we need only look to the Crucified (Risen) Christ for guidance and wisdom. And in the process, leave our judgments at the foot of the Cross.


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