The 16 year old turned to his father with tears in his eyes and said, “Daddy, there’s something wrong with my brain.” Nathan had studied for hours with his father the day before the history mid-term exam. He went into the exam feeling confident that, with his father’s help, he knew the material perfectly. After struggling for so many years with his diagnosed learning disability, he was finally putting a concerted effort into his work and with his father’s help, was confident that this exam would be passed with “flying colours”. However, to his horror, Nathan got to the classroom ready for the exam and couldn’t understand the questions. He knew they looked familiar but he just couldn’t understand what was being asked. He knew that he had provided all the answers in the review the night before, but he despondently realized that he could hardly answer any of the questions.
When his father returned home from work that evening he was excited to ask Nathan about the test. As Nathan sadly said, “Daddy, there’s something wrong with my brain,” they both cried into each other’s arms. Nathan’s learning disability got the best of him; his father felt so helpless. Parents want to do whatever they can to ease their children’s pain, but sometimes it’s beyond their ability. What could this father say when he, himself, was feeling his son’s pain. He couldn’t make it go away.
After a previous article I wrote, “It Hurts So Much…” dealing with the pain of a parent losing his daughter to suicide, one of the emails I received was from Esther. She was very sensitive to the issue of parents’ pain. As a professional worker with autistic children, she writes, “Of course having a child and losing them forever is not like having a child there with you, but I have heard more than once from parents the following comparison; If you lose a child, they’re gone. Yes, you think about them and you miss them and in most cases there are other children who help them ease the pain a bit. However, these parents don’t focus constantly on the child that’s gone (after the first couple of years, of course, which are unbearable). On the other hand, there is someone who lives with a child who is sick or disabled and they can’t do much for them. You can try to make them as comfortable as possible using all methods of therapy and trying to get them to communicate, however they will always be disabled.” Esther went on to share a story of a father of an eight-year-old autistic boy who woke up in the middle of the night with a terrible headache. He said to his wife, “my head is pounding. Can you get me an Advil?” As he was dozing back to sleep he realized if ever his son, autistic and non-verbal, would wake up in the middle of the night in pain with a headache, he would have no way to tell anyone! Esther asked me, what do you tell a father in tears like this? How do we give emotional help and strength to someone who asks the “no real answer’’ questions? She continued to describe how difficult it is to answer those questions like, “what did my poor little boy do to deserve not to be able to tell me if he has a headache? How can it be that he’s really supposed to suffer like that?”
Why bad things happen to good people is a question that has been written about, lectured about, philosophized about for years. In his book, “When Bad Things Happen To Good People” by Harold S. Kushner (published by Avon), the author wrote this insightful book not only because of the loss of a child, but because it applies to all losses, young or old. It makes you think, it gives you a brand of hope that you can tailor to your own needs. With chapters like “No exceptions for Nice People” and “What Good Then is Religion?”, you know it doesn’t try to sugar coat or placate. It reaches the heart through the brain. In his book, Kushner deals with such issues as how sometimes religious people like to believe that God has good reasons for making us suffer, try to imagine what those reasons might be. A parent who pulls his child out of a busy roadway, or refuses to give him a candy bar before supper, is not being mean or punitive or unfair. He or she is just being a concerned, responsible parent… When he grows up he will come to understand the wisdom and necessity of it.
Another consideration of whether there is an answer to the question of why bad things happen to good people by Kushner suggests that it depends on what we mean by ‘answer’. If we mean ‘Is there an explanation which will make sense of it all?’… then there probably is no satisfying answer. We can offer learned explanations, but in the end, when we have covered all the squares on the game board and are feeling very proud of our cleverness, the pain and the anguish and the sense of unfairness will still be there. But the word ‘answer’ can also mean ‘response’ as well as ‘explanation,’ and in that sense, there may well be a satisfying answer to the tragedies in our lives.
It seems to me that after all is said and done, asked and answered, tears and pain is so personal that all the explanations must be understood from each person’s perspective. Just as one must come to terms with his or her own level of spirituality, one must try to understand his pain in the same fashion. Emotional pain hurts from the core. It can overcome the strongest individual unless we have something stronger to turn to.