In the last year I've witnessed more pain and heartache than the 26 years before it combined. At least, I've become much more aware of it. Much more a witness to other people's pain, including the grief in my own immediate family.
I've watched dear friends and family lose precious babies.
I've experienced sudden loss and watched my husband and his family work through their grief.
I've witnessed loneliness, sickness, mental illness, troubled children, loss of faith.
It seems like too much. Too much hurt and loss. Too much betrayal.
Last year I found myself silently berating God. "How could YOU do this? How could YOU take away this sweet child? How could YOU allow them to suffer like this?"
And then, dear friends, a voice whispered in my heart. Not my own voice, it was almost as if I could hear it. It felt so real and so outside of myself.
Maybe you're looking at it wrong.
And that's when I changed.
Don't misunderstand me. Pain still hurts. It still feels unbearable. My heart still is weighed down by the heartache of my loved ones, and those that I don't even know personally. There still are and will be tears, a feeling of emptiness, a hurt that never fully goes away.
But for me, it's not for nothing anymore. I've realized more clearly in the last year that pain and loss is universal to the human experience. Nobody gets out of this life without it. Some people seem to get more than their fair share. Others put up a picture of perfection. But it's there. Underneath it all, we will all experience loneliness, betrayal, loss, a broken heart. We will all have to say goodbye before we're ready.
And it's awful. But it connects us. I've never experienced more love than after my father-in-law passed away in May. The loss brought us all together. Our hearts were broken, but they were knit together in common grief. And when those around us hurt, don't we all instinctively reach out? Try to lift that burden? Even if all we can do is say, "I'm so sorry."
This pain can tear us apart, but it can also bring us closer together. Shared heartache, collective mourning, united healing.
Back in Omaha I visited with a frail, old woman who told me of a book she read in which a person had a near-death experience/vision. In this vision, the person was shown a homeless drunk passed out in the street and was asked, "What do you see?"
She replied, "I see a homeless drunk."
The angel told her that this person agreed to come to earth and go through this so that the people around him would have the opportunity to serve and learn compassion.
A much younger me thought it was the stupidest thing I'd ever heard.
And now...I don't know. Without suffering, how would we learn compassion? How would we know the thrill of love without the pain of loss?
I have not lost a child, but I mourn with my loved ones who have. I cry today for two beautiful baby girls gone much too soon. But through the tears, I feel my heart opening. A string, a connection to their mothers is welded. I can not take away the pain. But I can remember with them. I can hold my own children closer today and love them too much. I can let my love and grief overflow in good deeds for others.
It doesn't make it better, but at least it doesn't seem in vain.
So to my friends and family who are grieving, you all know who you are, I see you. I remember. I love you. I hurt with you. And though I wish it hadn't happened, I am trying to allow it to change me and improve me. Unite us and bind us.
We are all fellow travelers along this road.