Suffering Is Optional

Posted by Rosemary Morris

Suffering Is Optional

In my family of origin, I saw illness from an early age. My sister is developmentally challenged and she also has severe epilepsy. My father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when I was in my early 20s. This was a prolonged illness that took its toll over the last 20 years of his life. My whole life I witnessed my mother as the caregiver for my sister, and then later for my father. After my father passed, my husband and I found an excellent group home for my sister. We did this in hopes to give my mother a much-needed break from the role of caregiver, and to allow my sister to live as independently as she possibly could. Finally, I would have my mother back as her relaxed and fun-loving self. Finally, she would be free to have more enjoyment and freedom in her life!

Something unexpected occurred, however.

We started to notice a sharp decline in my mother’s functioning. She had been forgetful and somewhat confused before my dad’s death, but I assumed it was a result of the constant stress she was under. After some time and continued observation, it was clear that she was experiencing severe memory loss and it was impacting her ability to live alone. Then the diagnosis I dreaded came...Alzheimer’s.

I didn’t take it well. It wasn’t fair, right? I felt sadness for my mother, and I felt a tremendous sadness and loss for myself. I thought I would have my mother back, but instead she was slipping away.

“Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.”

These words were spoken to me several years ago when I was stuck in this pattern of struggle and resisting against anything that did not fit with what I thought was tolerable or acceptable. The list was long, and I did not see at the time that I could overcome some of my suffering by merely accepting the circumstance as it was. The suffering came from my fighting against the situation! It’s not right! It’s not fair! How can this be happening?

My acceptance of my mother’s current situation released my struggle and allowed me to experience and enjoy her as she is. I rarely dwell in that place of “what is to come?”...I can make some scenarios up in my mind, but I have no idea what the future holds. Acceptance comes from a place deep inside. I see it as a spiritual experience. It takes resilience, forgiveness, and releasing that grasp on the way we believe things are supposed to be, but most of all it takes a whole lot of faith.

Some simple practices that help:
Progress not perfection...I am better at accepting challenges, but far from perfect. If I find myself slipping back into “resisting and suffering,” here are a few simple practices that help.

  • Gratitude practices (I am so blessed!)

  • Spending time in natural settings (sunshine if possible) 

  • Movement of some kind (depending on my mood)

  • Reaching out to someone (get’s me out of my own head)

  • Taking good care of myself (hot bath, massage, eating a healthy meal)

The work we do that makes a difference in the world, is the work we must do to heal ourselves. If there is someone in your life who may benefit from my message, please pass it along. I look forward to sharing more soon!

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