The email read, “I am not a bad person, but I failed to save my sad sick Sally .. I miss her … I miss her so much … I am trying my best.. but it hurt so much.” The parent goes on to describe the daughter as, “so much joy and too much pain.”
What do you say to a grieving parent whose child, in a moment of desperation, either through impulse or actual decision, ends their life? What kind of pain is this? As my mother once said after the death of one of my brothers, “a child is meant to bury a parent, a parent is not meant to bury a child.”
What is pain? Do we mean physical hurt or an emotional feeling? Of course both are used to describe something very uncomfortable. The Merrium Webster dictionary says pain is “usually localized physical suffering associated with bodily disorder” as well as “acute mental or emotional distress or suffering or grief.” Grief is defined as (a) deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement (b) a cause of such suffering. Surely the author of my email was in emotional pain and grief. Furthermore, without doubt, emotional pain often leads to physical aches and pains associated with stress. Remember that emotional pain is real. There’s long-term emotional pain that people suffer with for many years and then there is reactive emotional pain due to a particular event.
Actually, pain and hurt are difficult words to really describe because they are loaded, raw emotions. Similar is the word “Love”. What does love mean? For instance, I “love” fried chicken, I “love” my wife and children and when I was younger, I “loved” my pets. How confusing this language of ours!
People try to deal with pain in so many different ways At Regesh, we hear the painful stories of so many who come to us seeking a resolution to their life situation or trauma they have experienced. They need guidance, often therapy, and a safe environment to grow through their pain.
Tony Salvatore, a parent whose son succeeded in committing suicide, wrote a paper entitled, Being a Parent Left Behind. In it he says, “Pain comes on when loss starts boring into your soul. It gets worse as the inescapable reality of what happened sinks in. Then it becomes chronic. It still hurts, but in a different way. There are times when it still gets very bad. It’s always there. It’s something that I live with. Something that I don’t need. Dealing with pain has nothing to do with being strong — nothing about this has made me better or stronger. It’s totally trashed me. My memories hurt, my thoughts about my son’s suffering hurt, the futility of his death hurts, seeing what it has done to my family, places that I associate with him hurt, interests that we shared hurt, seeing things he liked hurts, enjoying anything hurts, watching other men with their sons hurts, any family event hurts, holidays hurt, the anniversary of his death hurts, looking at anything that belonged to him hurts, and hearing about somebody else’s kid doing it hurts too, a lot.”
To be helpful to others who are suffering with painful situations, we must be open to validate his or her feelings, have insightful listening skills and be non-judgemental. This approach is best served by both the professional and the layperson. In his book entitled Survivors: Stories and Strategies to Heal the Hurt, John Preston notes that “people in emotional pain often make three primary errors: (1) they believe that stressful life events are “no big deal,” and if hard times do occur, the pain should go away quickly. (2) They engage in a ruthless attack on there worth as human beings: “I shouldn’t feel this way.” “I must be crazy.” “There’s something wrong with me.” (3) They compare their pain with that of other people: “It could be worse. Others suffer more.”
As with physical pain, if the emotional pain hurts too much, we must seek relief. This is usually done with the help of a caring therapist. I often give the following example to new clients in therapy. There is the case of a little boy who comes to the doctor with one of those terrible sore throats that you can’t even swallow. The doctor examines the little boy and tells the parent that he has a serious infection that must be treated immediately by an injection of antibiotics. As the doctor gives the injection, the little boy cries and now not only does his throat hurt but also his arm hurts where he got the injection. What’s the moral of the story? Sometimes to feel better it has to first hurt more. That’s not to suggest that the therapist shouldn’t be gentle, but to deal with the pain one must talk about the actual issues and circumstances. Then the pain will subside with time and care. Sometimes crying is good therapy for pain. Never believe someone who says “men don’t cry” or “don’t be a cry baby.” If it hurts, do what comes naturally. Research has actually identified the advantages of crying.
Of course there are other things you can do to relieve emotional pain. For example, first, move around. Exercise is a great natural way to relieve both stress and pain. Next, even though there’s pain, take a break from your pain by trying to have fun. Laughter and fun are extremely therapeutic. If you find you can’t have fun because it hurts too much, try faking it and act silly with someone. Next, refocus. Focus on someone else’s needs. Try to help someone else. You’ll be surprised at the effectiveness of this remedy. Finally, remember that anger often follows emotional pain as a secondary emotion. Be aware of this and cut it off at the start. If you expect it, you can often prevent it.
Don’t be afraid to seek help. One needs to trust to find relief.