Monday, November 7, 2011

The Paradox of Suffering

Yesterday I received an email from a delightful Italian man I met long ago. I didn't realize, ever, that he followed my blog:

I have been reading your blog, and I have a question for you: are you able to be happy? to have lighthearted moments? to laugh without a worry in the world? Or is the dark cloud of grief always hanging over your head? I know, this is none of my business. But I have been wondering this for a long time and I only got the courage to write you today.

Those who do not know me personally and intimately might believe my life to be macabre, full of sadness, grief, trauma, and loss. Oh, yes, and in fact, I cry nearly every day.

But, there is another aspect of me often unshared publicly because traumatic grief is the centerpiece of my work's nature. Here is my response to this lovely man:

My most honest answer is that I'm utterly and completely happy and fulfilled, even when I feel sadness and grief. I know it sounds like a paradox, doesn't it? But I cannot imagine feeling better and more content in my life than I do... I laugh at myself often and I wake up every day excited for whatever may come, even if it is tears. I might cry a lot, but I laugh too, and feel so much more connected to my authentic self and everything else in the Universe. Death does this for me... He is like a box of darkness which too is a gift (nod to Mary Oliver). The more I am present with the reality of human suffering- my own and others- the more genuine and full life I am able to lead.

I do not want to be a fraud. I don't want to pretend to be happy all the time, like life doesn't hurt like hell. I don't want to pretend that I am not afraid, weak, vulnerable, or helpless at times. My life is bigger than pretense, and I owe it to my dead child and my dead parents and my dead best friend and the many beloved dead of the many families I know and cherish to live my life in authenticity.

That also means that with my big suffering comes big joy, the kind of unmitigated elation of life's simple gifts. An unbridled passion for budding flowers, and working ants, and glimmering snow, and pastel clouds, and the sound of children's voices... Everywhere around me I am surrounded by wonder and awe. I try to be awake to the preciousness of it all, even a single breath. Every day is sacred and vibrant. Vibrant in ways I never imagined before Death introduced Himself to me. My life went from fifty to fifty thousand colors.

How could I ever put the dark crayons back in the box now? No, because she is mine, for all eternity, and I am hers for just as long.

It's taken me a long time to see the beauty in the pain, the paradox of suffering. It's what's real. It's the only thing, besides love, that is real.


Pastor Jim said...

Now THAT'S real!! Thanks, Doc.

Kara Chipoletti Jones of GriefAndCreativity dot com said...

So incredibly grateful you are in this world!! xoxoxo

Anonymous said...

I understand.

In response to commenters who have chided me for "not being positive," I have often tried to express exactly what you have in this post.

Mostly I have failed. :} I blathered on about authenticity and the need to be real or the positive posts didn't count. Yep. You said it much better.

I'm going to link back to this post. Thanks. (And if you don't mind, I'm also going to lift the St. John quote.)


sari said...

Jo, you always seem to have the words that resonate with SO many bereaved parents. Thank you for giving us a voice, when we can not always adequately express our own. I LOVE YOU DEARLY! xo

Anonymous said...

There are so many already that speak for the light, and only a relative few who speak for the value of darkness. You have such a powerful voice. This is my first time here and I've found what you write to be SO beautiful and generous and good. Thanks.

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

Beautiful compliments, thank you, hands pressed together, head bowing. Thank you.


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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