Responding to the Suffering of Others

Responding to the Suffering of Others [1]

One of the hardest parts of caregiving work – or life, for that matter – is being asked to help someone whose particular form of suffering we have not experienced ourselves, perhaps one that triggers our deepest fears – for example, the sudden death of a child. How can we respond to a young father’s pain when we don’t even want to imagine what he is going through? What can we possibly offer him?

My experience is that each of us has the same needs when we are suffering. We all need to have our suffering and emotional pain validated. We need to feel safe speaking about and expressing our pain, and to trust that others will understand our feelings. We need to feel that whatever our experience and circumstances, we are respected and unconditionally accepted.

We all need basic human qualities – the reliable presence and love of another person, someone willing to be in regular contact with us for the duration of our journey through suffering. We need others to simply listen and bear witness to our pain, offering support, encouragement, and honesty, tempered with compassion.

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[1] Contents of this page prepared by Len Warren of Pure Land of the Indestructable Buddha, Hayagriva Buddhist Centre, 64 Banksia Terrace, Kensington 6151 Western Australia, November 2018. Selected extracts from Chapter 5, Facing Death and Finding Hope: A Guide to the Emotional and Spiritual Care of the Dying, by Christine Longaker, Broadway Books, New York 2001, p. 54