The painful questioning 'why?'
After a conversation today with a brave parent who has experienced more than his fair share of life challenges, fear, grief, anticipatory loss and who has no doubt moved through the ‘5 stages of grief’ on several occasions – I was reminded of the incredibly debilitating question that plagues many of us at a time of crisis, trauma or injustice
- ‘Why?’ -
When dealing with loss or potential loss the WHY question persistently and painfully arises. This manifests in a myriad of forms – those I have often encountered –
Why my child/husband/wife/mother/father/lover?
Why so soon? or Why so young?
Why now after how hard they’ve battled?
Why must they suffer?
Why them when they are so treasured and loved and so many others behave badly and take this life for granted?
Why does this hurt so badly/why won’t the hurting end?
Why has my god forsaken me?
Why couldn’t I do something to prevent this or change this?
Why, why, why …..?!
It is totally natural to ask ourselves these questions and they often arise initially as part of the questioning/denial stage. It is human nature to seek answers and to attempt to make sense of things or attach meaning. We feel such a complete sense of loss, pain, injustice or unfairness that we seek to answer how this could happen. There are of course answers to all of these questions, however it is almost impossible for someone to answer that for another.
I have found the most useful response to ‘why’ is empathy linked to gentle prods to their self reflection and introspection. Something along the lines of, ‘I cannot imagine how painful/confusing/overwhelming this must be for you right now’ and when they ask ‘why’, respond with ‘what do you think?’ – thus opening a channel of communication for them to process this for themselves or talk through their feelings with someone.
The answers will differ from person to person, there is not a one size fits all response to assuage this question. Do not fear an angry or negative response – again a very typical response or defence mechanism is to lash out at whoever is in the firing line. It is far better to assist, support or hold space for allowing these feelings to air rather than serving flowery platitudes such as ‘its in gods hands’, ‘they’re in a better place’, ‘life’s a bitch’, ‘you’ll move on in time’.
An unresolved WHY will play over and over in the mind like a broken record and take a toll on the physical and emotional health if left to fester. Why places us in a vulnerable and sometimes victim-like state of emotion, creating a powerless and impotent sense of our place in the world.
I have a very close to home example of a family member who remains angry, bitter and cynical about life in general many years after losing a child to disease, still replaying the ‘why me?’ inner dialogue.
Have you ever found answers to your ‘why’? Does the questioning cease over time? Can you find peace with no answer, but a move in to an acceptance?
What would you say to another who was questioning their situation?