Suffer Well

My mother was a petite woman with a huge presence. When she was fighting cancer, she also had a huge appetite. I would watch her polish off a pan of lasagna. Then she would ask me to get her a six pack of Hershey’s bars with almonds and she would wade into those. She weighed 106 pounds, her will to live probably burned off every calorie she ate.

In her last few weeks, she would call to me and tell me, “Coffee, coffee,” or “Ice cream, ice cream.” I would bring her cups of vanilla ice cream and she would eat them and say to me, “So good.” I would look in on her and she would be lying in her bed, smiling, looking out the window.

I grieve her loss greatly, more than I thought I would. But I finally learned to give myself some grace. To take my time. To not hurtle myself into the next task. To stop being mean to myself by telling myself I’m not getting things done. To stop putting expectations and timelines on suffering I have never been through before. To stop being an overachiever and for once, to just be with this time and with myself. To sit and breathe. To drink the coffee. To eat the ice cream. To look around.

I am learning from grieving my mother’s death how to suffer well. I could shove down my grief and push it away, hurry back to a productive life, pretend all is well. But one day, grief will find me and break me. I have been alive long enough to know that suffering ignored comes back in another form and it’s usually really, really angry. I don’t want the rebound grief. I’ll take it now.

Just as you cannot hurry love, you cannot hurry suffering. I learned that I cannot “get over it.” And that’s okay. When I accept my own pain, I can be more compassionate. When I accept my own loneliness, I can be more loving. When I accept my own grief, I can be more sympathetic. For all these and many more reasons, I allow myself to feel and accept suffering. Then I can let it go.

Time is all we truly have and that is a gift. We are starlight and magic wrapped in bone and meat and scraps of metal, flung into an effervescent Universe. Perhaps we are just flashes of light cast against a forever night sky. But I hope you know that your light matters. I hope you can suffer well. Then let your suffering go.