Can Anything Good Come Out of Suffering?

Caregivers finding meaning in suffering It can be difficult to find meaning in caregiving, and it’s normal to wonder whether anything good can possibly come out of the suffering that both you and your care receiver experience. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, because January 27 marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a concentration camp established by the Germans where more than one million people were murdered. I know this sounds odd, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Dr. Viktor Frankl, a survivor of unspeakable cruelty, and my mother, a caregiver who was a Kansas farm wife.

Dr. Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” changed Mom’s life. This one particular quote from the book became Mom’s internal compass – her true north: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

A few years ago when I spoke at a caregiving conference in White Plains, New York, I talked about being nine years old, sitting on the steps into the pit of our milk barn and listening to Mom describe how Dr. Frankl chose to react to that horrendous experience. During my presentation, I talked about how caregiving is similar in some ways to being a prisoner, and how it is possible, even in the very worst end-of- life situations, to grow mentally and spiritually.

A woman came up to me after I spoke and said, “I knew Dr. Frankl. I worked with him, and I can tell you that he would approve of what you’re saying about caregivers being like prisoners.”

I can’t tell you how deeply that comment touched my heart.

Dr. Frankl also wrote,“If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.”

It takes some effort to mentally and emotionally accept this statement, but I believe this is also true. Dr. Frankl’s unimaginable suffering motivated him to write a book that has inspired millions of people, including my mother and me.

I would never want to minimize an Auschwitz prisoner’s experience by comparing it to our caregiving experiences. But if it was possible for good to come out of a place as hideous as Auschwitz, then surely it is possible for those of us who are caring for loved ones who can no longer care for themselves to find purpose and meaning in our own suffering. Today I’m going to focus on all of the things for which I am grateful, and I’m going to strive to bring joy and comfort into the lives of others. I hope you’ll do the same.

Click on the link below if you’d like to watch my video about how Dr. Frankl inspired my mother to develop her “Attitude of Creative Indifference” toward the people, situations and events that were most upsetting to her.

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Click on this link if you’d like to order a copy of the book: “Man’s Search for Meaning”