If we now take things a little further we will notice that the first of the two patients to whom I made reference found one part of the answer (namely that concerning her history of cigarette smoking) at first engendered feelings of even greater unhappiness, remorse and guilt in the sense of, “Why ever did I do it?” This leads us to the, “if onlys” in life; you know the sort of thing: “If only this” or “If only that” had (or had not) been so. (Note here also the importance of affording my young patient, ample time and opportunity to verbalize and articulate her thoughts and feelings, thus enabling her to express her anguish in order that we might work through such concerns and anxieties in a caring but gently disciplined and effective manner).
Following the loss of a second sister during my childhood, I would sometimes come upon my mother quietly sobbing alone. I longed to comfort her and in such ways as I was able, tried hard to do so. Mother was a diminutive (in physical stature) but kindly and “great-spirited” lady with a straight tongue and a loving heart. Who could ever ask for more? One day, drying her eyes on her pinafore, she gently drew me to her. “You remember how, following a fall, you had a sore on your leg which turned septic and we used a poultice to draw out everything that was preventing it from healing properly? Well in a way, that’s what I need to do, as I did first when Edna” (my oldest sister) “died and now with dear Bertha”.
She went on to explain in her delightfully simple and sincere manner that quite apart from the eruption and searing pain – especially of heartbreaking loss – we also sometimes hurt for other reasons. For example, we ourselves may have done and said things (or not done or said them as the case may be). This can occasion deep-set feelings of guilt, regret and remorse, as hindsight moves in to do its worst. Yet, I suppose, it also amounts to (to change the figure) a kind of ground-clearing operation, ere we take courage to re-lay the foundation for a new normality. Strangely enough (although I have long-since forgotten what they were) there were reasons why even as a child, my mother’s explanation made sense to me. Over time, therefore, I felt that it was somehow all right and important for me as well, as and when need arose. That was nearly seventy years ago now; yet the memory is as fresh and refreshing as the dawn.
Hopefully, we can now address a further important point of progression as we wrestle with the question, “Why me?” Notice how one of the two patients referred to above was able to obtain at least a glimmer of a more positive and productive thread emerging from the ‘weave’ of her newly acquired insight to hold on to. Clearly this helped her to adopt a more meaningful approach to the unenviable situation in which she now found herself. It also at least diluted and modified the painful and – of itself – useless search for answers in terms of a much vaguer “meaning of life”. However – and at that moment in time – there was little or no comfort for the second of my two patients referred to previously, as she took the full brunt of its painful dilemma. Indeed, it is worth recalling her agonized cry from the heart, “After all I’ve tried to do and live a decent life…Why? Why should this happen to me?
Then why spend so much time with this question, if of itself, “meaning of life” cannot (in this present existence) be fully ours to acquire? And why have I been at such pains to insist that the question “Why?” should indeed be allowed to surface and be properly aired? In my next blog, I shall explore and explain this more fully and attempt to answer the question as to why such processes are vital to successful coping.