Friday, May 31, 2013

Pain: Our Common Denominator

“I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.” 
~  Jean Vanier, Community And Growth

Image courtesy of Molly Rice | Your Journey Forward

Over the last few weeks I've come to realize something quite basic, yet valuable.

I'm someone who is always trying to find common ground on which to build conversation about matters of import. What I've come to realize is this:  Pain is our common denominator.

It is the space that holds the potential to create genuine connection and embrace authentic compassion, for ourselves and others.

Pain is a fundamental part of this human experience.  I'm learning that there is something about giving voice to our pain and sharing it with others -- and listening to another soul do the same -- that creates a powerful connection.  Sharing, acknowledging, then releasing the pain can be extraordinarily healing.

One of my most painful experiences was the stillbirth of my son, Joshua, 22 years ago.  Normally when a child is born, the physician, nurse or midwife says, "Time of birth....".  When Joshua was born, I heard "Time of death, 2:12."


I believe stillbirth, even more so than miscarriage, has been a taboo subject in our society for a long, long time.  It's a discussion that is usually avoided like the plague, as are the parents themselves.

There is so much loss tied in with the loss of a child, beyond missing the relationship itself.  You lose your hopes and dreams for that child, and yourself; you grieve the loss of that future.  So often you lose friendships as well, due to others' discomfort with your own primal grief.

Just a few days ago I received an email, announcing a new film.  I had no idea what it was about but started watching it, then found myself in tears.

RETURN TO ZERO is the first film to focus on this tender topic (release date to be determined). They have an amazing cast:  Minnie Driver, Paul Edelstein, Kathy Baker, Connie Neilsen, Alfred Molina and others.  Please see the video trailer below.

As for my personal experience, I was definitely treated as a leper after I gave birth to Joshua. People were simply so uncomfortable and didn't know what to say or do. I was new to the area and most of my friends were from childbirth classes, pregnancy yoga classes, etc. I realize they turned away because they couldn't bear to imagine that the same could happen to them; still, it was painful to be ignored, to feel invisible. (In case you're wondering, I had a perfect pregnancy; no problems whatsoever. We'll never know what happened.)

Even though it is a tragedy, I want to add that most of us who have experienced the loss of a child would go through the experience again and again if it meant we could hold our child just one more time.

Another mom wrote this on the Return to Zero Facebook Page, but it echoes my feelings:

"After everything I went through when my child died and after everything that I am still going through, I would do it all over again. Why? Because he is my son, my beloved child and I would do anything just to hold him again. I would endure all of that pain and heartache because it would mean that I would get to experience all of that LOVE in its rawest most beautiful form again. I would STILL choose him because I STILL love him."

While I obviously can't speak for everyone, I think that's a very important message many of us want to convey.  Please don't pity us or think we wish we never would have been pregnant to begin with. On the contrary, we treasure what little time we had.  So many memories are now rushing back...

After his birth, once I was ready to interact with others, I longed to talk about Joshua, just as new moms and dads do about their children.  I wanted to tell my friends how cute his nose was, tell them about his hair and about how very perfect he was in every way.  I wanted to talk about my labor and delivery, and relive the pregnancy.  I wanted to share all the joy I experienced over those 10 months.  I wanted to keep his memory alive.

But that was too difficult for others...they pulled away.  The pulling away from those who are grieving, because of our own human discomfort with others' pain and grief, creates more pain.  (Please know that both my family and that of my ex-husband were absolutely wonderful in every way.  I don't have the words to express how much I appreciate their support then, and their continued acknowledgement of and love for Joshua all these years later.)

I have always had tremendous compassion for those who cannot be with anyone in the throes of grief or in pain in any way.  I truly understand how difficult it is to be immersed in someone else's pain.  While it was upsetting to have people turn away from me, I do understand; I even understood that at the time, so I never became angry.

Hopefully this film will raise awareness and nurture more open dialogue, which can lead to more compassion, more healing and, I dare say, more joy.

As fate would have it, I stumbled upon this Kahlil Gibran poem the same day I learned about Return to Zero.


Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. 

Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain. 

And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem  less wondrous than your joy; 

And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that  pass over your fields. 

And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief. 

Much of your pain is self-chosen. 

It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self. 

Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility: 

For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen, 

And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has  moistened with His own sacred tears. 

Khalil Gibran


~ Dena | About Me



  1. The first noble truth - we suffer. We suffer. Some suffer more, the loss of a child must be at or near the top of that list. But we all suffer. Acceptance of that, and like you say, that we do it to ourselves, is a big step in emotional health.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, Jim. You're very kind. :)

  3. Replies
    1. Thank you for reading, and for the kind words.