There’s a little black spot on the sun today, that’s my soul up there
It’s the same old thing as yesterday, that’s my soul up there
There’s a black hat caught in a high tree top, that’s my soul up there
There’s a flag pole rag and the wind won’t stop, that’s my soul up there
I have stood here before inside the pouring rain
With the world turning circles running ’round my brain
I guess I’m always hoping that you’ll end this reign
But it’s my destiny to be the king of pain – The Police
“I’ll see your despair and raise you two gloom.” Doesn’t it always seem in this game of life that we are constantly “sweetening” the pot of suffering. A never-ending round of one upping our fellow players. Who wants to be the big “winner” anyway? Who wants to walk away from the table with a wad of woe – peeling each one back like a crisp hundred-dollar bill to spend on future rounds of “Who Has it Worse”?Human nature makes us each sensitive to our individual misery. Those of us who have lost a child can be especially sensitive. Understandably so. Some might even say rightfully so. I avoid buying into rightfully so. Reality is that we will all eventually find ourselves deserving of spot at the final table of the World Series of “Who Has it Worse.”
Don’t get me wrong. It is so inviting to latch onto the pain that is “rightfully” mine and to declare it mine alone. After all, losing a child is the worse pain that one can endure. This phrase is bandied about as if universally true. But, is it? Is it universally true?
Most of us in the “Club” (a term that someone tagged along the way for those who’ve lost a child) attempt to answer for everyone. The reality is that I can only answer for me. Life has extracted from me more than one ante for a round of bereavement, so my answer isn’t formed in the vacuum of having only lost a daughter. Like you, I’ve confronted multiple losses. My younger brother. My step-brother. My father. My beloved Mamaw. My Aunt Lee, who was like a second momma. George, the sweetest Maltese you’d ever meet. Trey, a three-legged cat who’d melt your heart. The list goes on and on and on. And, we can pad that list would with losses not related to physical death. Grief comes in many shades and silhouettes.
So for me – yes – losing a child is the worse pain that I’ve endured. Except to caution against comparing the loss of an animal – regardless of how beloved – to losing a person (especially a child) – I don’t know the worse pain that anyone can endure. Frankly, I don’t want to know. I don’t want that crown.
Yet, we all do it. I did it in the last paragraph. I claimed that crown as my own. If you’ve not endured child loss then your pain must be inferior. Simply, can’t compare. Just doesn’t measure up. If you’ve not experienced the agony of child loss, then you really don’t even know what hurt is.
We must all resist this attitude. Lest, we find ourselves the “King of Pain,” isolated and alone at the table with a pot full of sorrow.
Pain isn’t a competition. It is impossible to compare whatever pain we’ve experienced in our own lives (no matter how devastating) to what others have experienced. If the lowest low you have endured is the loss of a parent, grandparent, or a neighbor down the street – that pain is no less real just because you can’t compare it to the loss of a child or a sibling or a young friend who was taken untimely.
Attempting to weigh our own loss against another’s is impossible. It is akin to comparing the depths of love and concluding that no one else has ever experienced love like we have. The only thing true about the statement is that no one has experienced love like we have and no one has experienced loss like we have. And, we’ve not experienced love or loss like anyone else. We are comparing apples to oranges to “pain” chips.
You need not have experienced physical death to understand that attempting to calibrate our catastrophe against another’s leads nowhere. The sting of addiction, incarceration, or making a call to hospice leave their own marks on our souls.
Loss is unique to each of us; yet universal in that we all experience it.
We live in a broken world. God never meant for us to live in this world. He meant for us to live beside Him in Eden. When Satan set up the first high-stakes game in the Book of Genesis – we (humanity) elbowed our way to the table and anteed up. We went “all-in” and were left destitute. We then shimmied ourselves into shabby, ill-fitting coats for the rest of this life. It doesn’t quite fit. This world is a little tight around the shoulders and it tugs at the buttons.
All of the brokenness of the world can be reduced to one word – pain. We are all in pain in some form or fashion. Once we open our eyes beyond our own broken hearts, however, we begin to build bridges; we begin to fortify one another. Comparison leads to isolation.
We aren’t intended to bear suffering alone. We cannot rely on our own strength, prowess, or intelligence – frankly, because the notion that we even possess such is a delusion – one of Satan’s greatest deceptions.
At the deepest, darkest place of despair, our own strength is insufficient to carry the weight. I cannot count how many times since the accident someone has told me how strong they think I am. I don’t feel strong. I feel battered and bruised and broken. I’d bet that you feel the same way about whatever shoddy overcoat may be tugging on your frame.
The good news is that we don’t have to be strong. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:1-5.
God is our comforter and strength. He comforts us so that we can in turn comfort others in any affliction. We have God and we have each other.
Notice that the passage doesn’t read that God comforts us so that we can then comfort those who have the same sorrow. Knowing the worse pain that one can endure is not a prerequisite for reaching out to others. We are each suffering the worse pain that we know and can endure at this moment in our lives. No comparison necessary.
Our suffering is individual; our capacity to comfort is universal.
When we can embrace our human frailties, we build connections with others. In the greatest of ironies, true strength is forged in our collective web of weaknesses. Individually, our infirmities can be crippling. Together, they form tenuous, yet impenetrable links. Each fragile soul intertwining with others, ultimately knitting a safety net of sorts to catch the next soul who faces an incomprehensible woe –whatever it may be.