After my father died, my mother became my greatest concern. My parents had known each other most of their lives. Taking care of him and raising her family had been the focus of her life. I knew she missed him terribly.
I could always talk with my Mother about anything so when I saw an opportunity I shared my concern. To my surprise, she said that it was difficult but it was also a gift in a way. Dad had been sick much of his life, she explained, and had already suffered so much. “Can you imagine how difficult it would have been for him if I had gone first?”
With that I began to see her suffering in a new light. Far from an act of desperation, it was, in fact, an act of faith and fidelity. For years we had shared a wish we could do something to ease Dad’s pain with little success. Now, she was saying, at least I can spare him this.
When I told Viktor Frankl my mother’s story, he took out one of the black
Flair pens he favored and wrote an equation: D = S – M.
“Despair is suffering without meaning,” he explained. “Like your mother, each of us is challenged to find the meaning in our suffering and use it to give purpose to our lives.”
More often than not, our first instinct when we are ill or hurt is to focus on ourselves and our problems. Self-concern makes us more self-centered as we turn the eye inward in doubt, despair, and wonder. Those who cannot find a purpose in their pain are diminished by it. Those who do are strengthened by the process.