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What Elders Can Teach Us About Embracing Pain

June Clinton

By Margaret Wachholz.

Inner peace is hard work. Struggling with our emotions, reflecting, and not looking for immediate answers amid life’s carnage can feel toilsome. Some of us want to skip over the hard parts of life when we hit relational road blocks and traffic jams. We thirst but don’t really want to drink the often bitter water of a contemplative life of introspection and uncertainty.

When we choose to, instead, accept discomfort and ambiguity, we are forced to face things head on, and the sweat of accepting this cools us with the convection of letting go. The deep internal awakening comes from this sad and scary place. It is not easy, but the power of this work releases our past preoccupations to now become useful and relevant—versus being right.

I asked a local elder, June Clinton, about sorrow. I couldn’t imagine losing a daughter to the ravages of cancer as she had. Instead, June’s joy is abundant. The union with another human being—her daughter—gave June the sense of having done well at something enormously important. It makes June beautiful. “I was lucky to have known my daughter for over 50 years; she was just lovely,” June said.

Holocaust survivor Dr. Viktor Frankl says that “despair equals suffering without meaning.” Pain and suffering, with despair removed, is powerful to a life of service. It requires us to take the world on more slowly, to notice its harshness and its richness. June doesn’t eliminate all the things that could cause suffering; she is just laser-focused on why they matter. Grace emanates from June as she teaches us much. I thirst to mature as beautifully as June.

Margaret Wachholz is the campus marketing director at Woodbury Senior Living.

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