A Helpless And Unrelenting Pain.
Janice appeared to be a stable pillar of confidence and dependability to her staff as she managed several clients’ investment portfolios. She was passionate about her work, was a good listener, and well liked and loved by her team of assistants. She was also one of the more active leaders in her church, serving in various capacities in committee work and as a small group leader. All this while, no one suspected that Janice was nursing a helpless and unrelenting pain that she had borne since her teenage years. It was after a seminar’s session in a local church on mental disorders, when she pulled me aside and sought a counselling appointment. She apologised that she would not be able to stay for the rest of my talks, as she was not feeling too well. She looked a little pale! An appointment was scheduled after office hours, specifically at her request; she did not want to bump into anyone at my office who might recognise her.
She was withdrawn and wondered aloud whether she had made the correct decision for counselling. After some reassurances and empowering her in her choices, she began her story. She was brought up by her maternal grandmother but never knew who her mother was. When she turned 16, her grandma drew her aside and spoke to her about her background, as she had promised earlier. She had been born out-of-wedlock, but her parents never married. Before she was born, her mother’s husband-to-be fatally maimed her father. Her mother descended into depression and ended up in a mental institution. After discharge, she did not want to see her daughter, and left Janice in her grandmother’s care. Two years later, Janice tracked her mother down. She was over the moon, after 18 years, to be able to meet up with her mother at long last. Their first meeting was tense. Towards the end of it, her mother said that she did not want to see her ever again, as Janice’s existence was an embarrassment to her. She was adamant that this family secret should remain a secret. Janice was told to forget that her mother ever existed. She was crushed. After her mother left the coffee bar, Janice could not recall how long she remained riveted to her seat before a waiter approached her to enquire whether she was OK! She choked on those words and suddenly her composure collapsed. She wept unceasingly for the next 20 minutes, with both her hands clutching where her heart was. She kept repeating, “It is so painful! I cannot bear the pain any longer. It hurts so much,” as she attempted to fathom her mother’s heartless rejection and abandonment. All her hopes of re-establishing a relationship with her long lost mother dashed; never to be recovered ever again. She held a hand to her mouth, shook her head, to indicate to me that she was unable to speak any further. She wanted to be left alone for a while. I empathised and reassured her, and left her to recover from her traumatic memories.
As we commenced our next session, Janice said that the intolerable pain she felt in the last session was similar to the one at the earlier seminar she had attended, when I began addressing the issue of pain. Then she spoke of a further complication that surfaced a few months back, when a cousin whom she grew up with, borrowed a substantial sum from her for a mutually agreed investment opportunity. But when the investment matured, he claimed that he never received any money from her. This broken trust and additional estrangement broke Janice’s heart again, especially when this particular cousin was like a brother to her. Suddenly, the family structure that she came to depend on and grew up with began to crumble. She began to question whether she actually could depend on other family members, as the experiences of abandonment and betrayal raised their ugly heads!
Although some suffering seems inherent in our world, not all seems inevitable or necessary, and at times, we can prevent or lessen human suffering. The desire to heal suffering seems to be part of human compassion that in fact does address the sense of isolation and alienation resulting from it. Much of preventable suffering appears to come from destructive human relationships, and even may be deliberately inflicted to punish or in an attempt to manipulate the behaviour of others. The latter somewhat defines what we mean by experiencing evil in this world. Similar to Janice’s experiences, genuine suffering and its accompanying pain is a consuming experience blending physical conditions, psychological experiences, and the rupture of social connections.