Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Experience of Suffering and Loss

The topics of loss and suffering have always intrigued me. We can't get out of this world without experiencing some sort of suffering or loss. Some experience it much more frequently, and to a more intense level. However, we all experience it. As a counselor, I encounter grief and suffering frequently. And one common frustration I hear, and have experienced myself, is the advice received from others. Every person experiences grief, and has therefore found things that are helpful and hurtful in the grieving process. And so, when we see others around us hurting, we want to share our advice with them. This can overwhelm a grieving person, especially if they aren't ready. Instead of dumping information, perhaps ask if they would like to know what helped you, or if they would prefer that you just sit next to them.

Also, understand that we each come into the grieving or suffering experience with different personalities, needs, and histories. That's why some things work well, while other things don't help the grieving process. Sometimes, when we keep trying the advice of others, and it doesn't work, we feel frustrated. Maybe we aren't ready, but maybe it's just that it doesn't work with our personality. Just a thought...

Instead of trying to fix others or their pain, can we be there, in community, for others, and experience loss and brokenness together? Can we not dump information on them, but cry with them, support them, and give advice when asked?

One of my personal favorite books in regards to the experience of suffering is A Grace Disguised, by Jerry Sittser. In one moment, he lost his mom, wife, and a daughter in a car accident (they were hit by a drunk driver). Here's a quote on suffering and loss:

"Though suffering itself is universal, each experience of suffering is unique because each person who goes through it is unique. Who the self was before the loss, what the self feels in the loss, and how the self responds to the loss makes each person's experience different from all others. That is why suffering loss is a solitary experience. That is also why each of us must ultimately face it alone. No one can deliver us, substitute for us, or mitigate the pain in us. But loss does not have to isolate us or make us feel lonely. Though it is a solitary experience we must face alone, loss is also a common experience that can lead us to suffering. " (p. 171).

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