How many of us are there who had stoic, iron-willed fathers who insisted their children keep a stiff upper lip? How much suffering has been caused by our continuing as adults to hold ourselves to impossible standards, to deny weakness? To resist suffering is to run straight into its arms. To become liberated from suffering, it must be embraced, shown kindness and compassion, invited in for tea. Anthony’s death was the crowning lesson in facing suffering squarely and letting it be.
And yet, life continues to teach. We don’t learn important lessons all at once. The process is long and merciless. Life will not allow us to skip a grade. Step by tremulous step, trembling and fearful we continue, day by day, moment by moment. And then, suddenly – there it is! The next lesson, the unexpected arrow, the quivering and wounded soul taken by surprise once again.
The pain of watching a loved one suffer is unique. We can come to a place of acceptance with our own pain. We can learn to invite it in, sit it down, say welcome. Say sit, let me care for you tenderly. But what if the pain is another’s? What if we are forced to watch a loved one suffer? What then? How do we allow this pain to have a place at our table?
With Crohn’s Disease, suffering and stress cause flare, cause illness. Being ill is its own challenge. I always felt I was letting Daddy down when I was ill. Why couldn’t I control my illness? I was a sickly child, bronchial asthma, in and out of hospital. Unfortunately, to make it all the more unbearable, there was a misunderstanding of asthma in those days. There was a suspicion that the ill child was somehow making itself sick. That control of emotions would bring health. So my father was often disgusted with my illness. His disapproval stung me without a word. When there were words, they were like arrows piercing my heart. I was filled with guilt and shame.
I still struggle with guilt and shame when I am ill. On a normal day, when my pain is manageable and I have some energy to care for everyday tasks, I push through. But the days and weeks when I am not able to manage the pain, when I am too bone-weary to do simple tasks, I am filled with shame. I know in my head that this is wrong. One day, my heart will finally understand. Perhaps on that day I will be able to be a better friend to myself when I am ill.
And the guilt and shame arise when a loved one is suffering. I feel deeply my own failure. Why could I not prevent this suffering? Why could I not protect and save them? I know it’s illogical to believe that I can keep those I love from pain. And yet, there it is. The guilt. The shame. The taste of failure, bitter on my tongue.
This rambling has no real purpose. There are no easy answers. All I am able to do, at this point, is to notice. I notice that I am filled with guilt and shame. I listen to the accusations, to the inner voice turned suddenly against me. I try to pause, to take a few breaths, to allow these feelings place. To grant myself compassion and kindness. I try and then I try again. All the while staring into the darkness, thinking how lovely it would be to just stop. For the pain to just stop. For my failures to just stop. For life to just stop.
All day I find myself whispering, “I’m sorry”. Whispering to the grandchildren I have lost. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you. Whispering to my children. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I failed you. I’m sorry my love wasn’t enough to prevent you from a life of pain and chaos. Whispering to this precious child who now suffers. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I tried so hard to help, to protect, to be the bridge to wellness. I failed. It feels unforgivable. I’m sorry, Daddy. I’m sorry I’m sick. I’m sorry I’ve failed again and again and again.