On Grief and Suffering

32348Years ago I saw the movie Shadowlands – the story of Oxford professor, C. S. Lewis (most known for his children’s book, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), and his American Jewish wife, Helen Joy Davidman.

At the point where Lewis has to face that Helen is dying, he realizes how much he loves her. But her illness makes him question his devout Christian faith. How can God allow such suffering? How could God bring him love so late in life only to snatch it away?

If you shut your heart to pain, you shut it to love as well.

Helen responds that you cannot shut down your heart to avoid feeling pain or you will shut down your heart to feeling love as well. She says that the pain that you know will be experienced later IS part of the happiness now. It makes each moment more poignant. You have to be willing to experience it all. You have to keep your heart open.

Helen’s attitude is a recognition that everything is transitory – both our lives and our time together with loved ones. It is a way it is seizing the moment to appreciate everything now especially because we know such moments are finite. And when such time is over if they die before us, we can be comforted in that we had those moments together, that we experienced their love and our friendship and happiness together.

“Carpe diem”: Seize the day

Perhaps in the case of an on-going or painful, terminal illness, knowing that their suffering was ended can also be a comfort.

And then there is the grief of witnessing the suffering of others that we do not know. How could a loving God allow such evil? Why do bad things happen to good people?

Why does suffering exist?

I don’t believe there is an answer to this age-old question although there are theories. In a specific individual case we may have a hunch as to why. Certainly the consciousness of the individual has a lot to do with the personal internalization or how they experience the suffering whether or not it changes the outward situation.

Some think that there is karma – that bad things happen to pay someone back for the bad things they have done in the past. Then guilt plays a part. Guilt always looks for punishment.

But some of my hypnosis colleagues have found that suffering can be part of a soul contract. In other words, that a soul has voluntarily taken on a specific challenge in order to learn something – maybe humility, patience, or compassion for others with similar challenges. There are many people who have credited their childhood poverty, abuse, or trauma as the motivating force to work hard to change things and do something with their life. Some were even be the ones responsible for pulling the family group as a whole out of their dire situation. If learning is the reason for the suffering, speed up the learning process and then ask the universe to be released from the condition.

Maybe the soul has chosen it’s challenges as a way to grow personally. Or maybe the soul has willingly taken on a challenge to help others to grow, to teach them something, or at least, to give them the opportunity to do so. Maybe their suffering is to inspire others to take action and remove or heal the cause of the problem so that others benefit, or to come up with a solution, an invention, a therapy, or legislation to address that problem that brings much needed change or improvement. Maybe it is to teach compassion and give others an opportunity to minister to their needs.

I remember years ago listening to one of the most arrogant, elitist, wealthy man talking about the problems of being a parent to a severely disabled young child. And when I heard it, I thought that his son might be a heaven sent gift to soften and open this father’s heart to love, and teach him compassion for others. Right or not, that was a blessing  that could potentially arise from the situation.

What can you do when you are grieving or suffering in some way?

Deliberately find a way to notice what is still good. Savor the love and friendship that is available. Open your heart to those who come or call. Reconnect. Pull your loved ones and pets close to you. If you don’t have a pet but love animals, get one or volunteer at an animal shelter. As you open your heart to give love in any area possible, you will receive it back abundantly.

Connect with nature and appreciate the natural rhythms and cycles of life. Death is part of that cycle. After every winter comes spring, then summer, fall and winter again. But then spring returns yet another time. Think of the the spring flowers, the young ones, the baby birds and animals just being born. Take time to be with them, to notice and appreciate whatever is around you. Go feed the ducks, hatch some chicks, hug a tree. And I don’t mean to be trite in the face of real suffering, but just focus on being, really being present with any evidence of LIFE in any of its forms, including what may seem to be inanimate like rocks and streams– all of these bring healing.

Look for beauty. Look for any evidence of goodness and joy. Look for evidence of things that have been around much longer than a human’s lifespan, and for evidence of things that die and are reborn.

When my son was born, my neighbor’s daughter just died. So as soon as I was out of the hospital, I went over to her and let her hold my baby. I wanted her to still know that life goes on, and that this new life can be a great comfort. Holding the soft bundle of a newborn melts the heart, and in the melting comes the healing.

Any person for whom you grieve lives on through you not just in your memory, but also in how they touched or changed your life. The love you had for them lives on, and I believe that their love for you does as well. I have personally experienced my whole being filled with love multiple times as my deceased father’s made his presence known. Same thing happened for months with a very special cat. I have had visits from deceased clients, students, colleagues. So I am convinced that the soul lives on independently of my memory of them.

And something of you will live on through friends and family – your legacy to the world of how you made a difference perhaps just in being in the right place at the right time to give encouragement, a helpful perspective, a simple act of kindness. Cherish the good memories. Put up any photos that bring a smile to your face and make you laugh. And if you have them, hug their pillow, their clothes with their smell still on them.

Then connect to the spiritual dimension, the greater cosmos beyond the solar system, the galaxy to an even bigger beyond in all it’s majesty. Go out and watch the sun rise and set. Look up at the stars and visit any awe inspiring vistas where you can gain a higher perspective beyond your day to day life.

And go every day to that place within your soul that is still okay and loves you very much. Remember, know and allow yourself to feel that

you are loved.