After any significant loss, we feel empty, lost, and engulfed with indescribable pain. One grueling process in grief work is connecting our feelings and state of being with words. However, once we get passed this hurdle, something else surfaces. We learn quickly that people cannot fully understand.

As a father who lost his first child, I know that feeling very well. Trying to educate a world what it’s like to lose a 5 ½-week-old daughter can prove exhausting. In this short article, I hope to universalize this common but unpleasant experience so that when a parent, sibling, friend, or faith community member doesn’t grasp your pain, you can stand assured that you are not alone in an already dark world.

Grief is a word used to describe a painful loss. We hear it used all of the time in reference to death. But loss also refers to various phases of life such as leaping into midlife or late adulthood. Grief includes saying goodbye to a son or daughter who is going off to college. Loss is even experienced upon leaving a home that has accumulated family memories for years. In any case, grief refers to many forms of suffering that find their way into everyone’s life at one time or another.

The most baffling piece to this whole puzzle, however, is how we still miss each other when it comes to understanding human suffering. Why is that?

Two reasons come to mind why pain can seem invisible. First, each human being digests pain differently. Although we have shared experiences, each individual’s cognitive, emotional, spiritual, and physical systems translate pain in a unique fashion. Our personal histories, genetics, personalities, ethnicities, and age make every loss experienced one of a kind. Cultural norms and expectations further intensify the unknown.

In my case, even though many can identify with losing a child, numerous factors exist that separate my experience from that of the next parent. Accounts, though similar in nature, contain multiple factors that separate one human form of suffering from another.

Second, fear can inhibit family members, friends, colleagues, partners, and spouses from understanding. Some are in too much pain to give someone else undivided attention. Still others have good intentions, but can only go so far before feeling threatened by the sight of another’s suffering.

I think of the story of Job in the Old Testament scriptures. He had lost everything; his pain was beyond words. His friends seemed to make a good move at first: the silent presence of a caring other. But then the story turns darker. Fear surfacing in the form of preconceived religious ideas generated a less than soothing moment for the grieving father and husband.

People can never fully understand. You’re right! Everything from biology to societal habits to internal fears can inhibit you from feeling fully heard and noticed. But when you feel disappointed and disconnected, know that you are not alone.

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Kevin Quiles

Kevin Quiles, M.Div., M.A, has provided spiritual and bereavement counseling to elderly and dying individuals and their families since 1998. He earned his Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1987 and attained a Masters of Divinity Degree with Emphasis in Counseling in 1995, before completing over two years of clinical-pastoral education under professional supervision. Quiles earned a Master of Arts Degree in Community Counseling at a CACREP accredited university and is now practicing supervised psychotherapy in the greater Atlanta area of Georgia, specializing in couple therapy, trauma, and grief. The author is also a member of the American Academy of Psychotherapists. His experience with thousands of patients in hospitals, assisted living facilities, and in their own homes gives him the insight and humility to write on the subject of spiritual care. The author has also penned six articles, including "Embracing the Elderly Patients' Wish to Die," and "Power Patterns within Professional Relationships." Dipped in a narrative format, Spiritual Care teaches the sacred art of end-of-life counseling to family members, students, volunteers, faith community lay and professional ministers, and therapists.

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