Still Standing

A Controversial Challenge – To Sit With the Pain

Have you ever had one of those unbelievably joyous moments that makes you feel like your heart will explode, because it cannot contain all that happiness? Maybe your wedding day, those two lines on that fateful stick, an academic achievement or success in your career? 

I won’t ask if you’ve ever had one of those unimaginably painful moments that would cause the same overwhelming, breath-robbing feeling – you would not be reading this if you haven’t known that pain, and for that I am so very sorry.

We don’t seem to resist the former of the two experiences. We usually embrace that joy and relish every moment of the euphoria we feel. It feels good. Scratch that, it feels amazing!

But we definitely resist the latter. We feel like we have to soldier on; we rally, we try to avoid the triggers and keep a strong and happy face – why? Because it feels horrible to feel this way, of course! And why would anyone want to see all that honest and very real grief, right?

I can see you nodding when I say it feels like drowning, like you can’t breathe and you can’t keep your head above it.

It’s a howling kind of grief.

And why shouldn’t it be? You didn’t lose your phone or your favourite shirt- you lost your child. Your child! I lost my daughter while in labour at full term, and along with her death so died the dreams and hopes I had for her. I lost what should have been; and so did you. And for that, I am truly sorry.

It’s amazing how so much joy or so much grief can take over every fiber of our being if we let it. Yet here’s a thought- why do we think it is so dangerous to process one and not the other?

We ride out the elation just because it feels good, but we resist and struggle to process our grief sometimes just because it feels yucky.

But it’s meant to feel yucky. In danger of flogging the viral meme, our grief is the demonstration of our love for the one that we have lost, and it is the depth of my love for my daughter that makes me howl in remembrance and longing for her.

We don’t grieve so deeply the things that have no real place in our hearts or lives. And it’s because of this, I want to process the pain of her loss as much as I would have processed the joy had she lived.

A challenge to engage with the pain

So the dare I’m setting is the same one my counsellor gave me- to sit with the pain. To not shy away from the feeling but to be with it for a while, give it the place it deserves.

I know we may have to put on our brave face every day to our family, friends, co-workers, but I dare you to find time in your day- maybe in the afternoon (try to avoid the evening), when you have some time of solitude (it doesn’t need to be long)- to go to a safe place, to play that song, to hold that bear or precious item, to grab those tissues and to howl for them. This is not an exercise to drive you to despair, but to release all of that overwhelming pain and love you have for your beloved angel, to ride that gruelling wave, let it take its course, and to float at the end of it.

Examples from children

We often encourage children to let out their pain, don’t we? Countless times my eldest has hurt himself or experienced a mean word from someone he trusted and he comes to me with tears welling. Whether I like it or not, he’s going to let it out; and so he should, he has been hurt! I’m not about to rush him into silence or dictate how he should feel.

So I wrap my arms around him and let him ride that pain. He finds comfort in the safe space I provide for him, and I find he goes through the process much more efficiently and is cathartic by the end of it, clear-headed and ready to deal with his pain practically.

Don’t try putting a bandaid on a hysterical child, it will end in an accidental knee to the jaw! Same for us. Same goes for our deepest suffering.

I watched Inside Out with my children the other day. If you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend it, it’s just wonderful! I especially loved how Sadness sat with Bing Bong and helped him delve into the loss of his precious wagon. Although Joy’s attempts to distract and make him happy again were well-intentioned, it simply glossed over his crippling loss.

Sadness sat with Bing Bong, explored the pain and the joyful memories. She listened to him and let him weep. He went through the motions of his grief and when he was ready, he stood and continued his journey.

A challenge for you, dear support person

Sitting with the pain can be seen as very controversial- deliberately putting yourself in a place of vulnerability and mourning. It’s not only a challenge to the grieving person but also to the support person. If you’re a support person reading this, and cringing at the idea of being that shoulder to cry on and the ear to receive the rambling and howling- imagine being in the shoes of your dear friend who is going through the most inconceivable hell right now, a life without their sweet baby. It’s awful isn’t it? I am so sorry. I imagine you are asking yourself how you can help?

That’s it. That’s all you need to do.

Sit with your friend, sit with the pain: “It’s just awful, isn’t it. I am so sorry. How can I help?”

And if it means just sitting and listening to your friend talk about their precious child, please do so. This is not fixed no matter what you do or say, but just being with the person  is a start.

It’s a scary challenge- to sit with the pain– to allow it to wash over you. It goes against our human nature that strives to seek happiness all the time. But sadness is just as valid an emotion as joy, and it deserves your time and honour too.