The Loneliness of Suffering
One of the hardest things for me about suffering is loneliness.
Inevitably I feel isolated. Though my friends can help, they cannot share my sorrow. It is too deep a well.
When loss is fresh, people are all around. They call, offer help, send cards, and bring meals. Their care helps ease the razor-sharp pain. For a while.
But then they stop. There are no more meals. The phone is strangely silent. And the mailbox is empty.
No one knows what to say. They aren’t sure what to ask. So mostly they say nothing.
Sometimes that’s fine. It’s hard to talk about pain. And I never want pity, with the mournful look, the squeeze on the arm, and the hushed question, “So how are you?”
I don’t know how to answer that; I don’t know how I am. Part of me is crushed. I will never be the same again. My life is radically altered.
But another part of me craves normalcy. A return to the familiar. To blend into the crowd.
I Don’t Know What I Want
I want to be grateful for my friends’ support. And on the best of days, I can see and appreciate all of their efforts. But on the worst of days, I feel frustrated and angry. I wonder why people aren’t meeting my needs. Don’t they know what I want? Can’t they read the signs? Why can’t they figure out what would make me feel better?
They can’t figure it out because I don’t know myself.
This is the crazy part of grief for me. I don’t know what I want. I have no idea what will satisfy me. And somehow, whatever others do cannot meet my expectations.
Expectations that are fickle. And one-sided. And reflect my self-absorption.
Intense pain, physical or emotional, has a way of doing that. I become fixated on myself — my needs, my pain, my life. Somehow I forget that other people have their own pain and their own lives. They want to help, but they can only do so much.
Alone with God
While I am frustrated that others aren’t easing my pain, I need to remember that there is a part of suffering that I must bear myself.
Paul addresses that very tension. In Galatians 6:2, he says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” And then, three verses later, he reminds them, “For each of you will have to bear his own load” (Galatians 6:5).
The word Paul uses for burden implies burdens that exceed our strength. In Paul’s day, travelers often had heavy loads to transport. Others would relieve them by carrying their burdens for a while. Without help, their loads could be crushing. This could be likened to the tangible help we can offer — our acts of service, our continual prayers, our physical presence.