My dad has been gone for 21 years. That’s nearly half my life, yet sometimes it seems like an eye-blink.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve encountered him in my dreams and seized precious moments to say what needed to be said only to wake up to the reality of his absence.
One of the greatest lessons my dad taught me during his short 56 year lifespan was the value of legitimate pain.
Pain Can Be a Good Thing?
Few things in life are as under-rated as legitimate pain. Many of us spend our entire lives in a state of pain avoidance as if any pain whatsoever is somehow evidence of failure.
To be sure, pain is never fun and only a masochist would actually seek it out.
But some types of pain are a necessary part of living in that they serve the essential purpose of teaching us lessons that refine us and leave us better than before.
An example of this is the pain experienced by those who exercise and push themselves beyond the level of sedentary comfort.
It’s a temporary pain, evidenced by sore muscles and burning lungs, but it serves a purpose and the body is stronger for having invited it and endured it.
There is also well-founded pain in the sorrow that follows a realization of wrongdoing and it is what helps inspire the repentant individual to steer a more true course.
Legitimate pain has a purpose and should be distinguished from illegitimate pain.
Avoidance of legitimate pain is a short-sighted mistake in that it robs us of powerful opportunities to grow on numerous levels.
How I Learned My Lesson
On the day after Thanksgiving 1989, my father informed me that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and nothing more could be done. As he wasted away, it became increasingly difficult to accept the reality that he would soon be gone.
This was the first time I had faced the loss of someone close to me. I was deeply confused by a flood of powerful emotions that surged over me.
In a fit of misplaced anger, I defiantly resolved that I would be strong and would not allow myself to shed a single tear over his passing.
To make good on my vow, I stubbornly refused to visit my father’s death bed or speak to him during his last two weeks. I even made a point to steer clear of my grieving relatives.
The legitimate pain and doubt that followed this decision was not avoided, but merely deferred.
What should have been a natural period of mourning followed by healing instead became long-term sorrow and suffering that persisted for years. All this for trying to avoid the legitimate pain of losing my father.
By contrast, when my grandfather reached the end of his life, I made a conscious decision to spend as much time with him as possible and to openly tell him how much he meant to me and how I would miss him.
I was with him as he drew his final breath and was stunned at the sense of peace and calm that filled the room as he passed.
The healing from the loss of my grandfather was swift and sure, unlike the doubts and sorrow that dogged me for years following my father’s death.
There were no regrets for missed opportunities.
The pain that accompanied my grandfather’s death provided me with much needed strength and growth. It was a powerful lesson about the benefit of embracing and not avoiding legitimate pain.
Better Than We Were Before
Avoidance of legitimate emotional pain is a very simple trap to fall into.
Fortunately, the harmful effects can be negated and the value of legitimate pain proven by squarely facing those individuals or situations in which we find pain then earnestly seeking to mend what’s wrong.
Somethings cannot be fixed, but the pain still serves a purpose.
In the case of a dying loved one, this can take the form of expressing your love for them as well as your sorrow. Something incredibly healing occurs for both parties when a dying person is wiping your tears away.
There is great peace found in extending sincere forgiveness to those with whom we are estranged whether they accept our overtures or not.
Strangely, these are things that must be experienced to be believed.
Instead of wearing ourselves out in an effort to avoid pain at all costs, we must distinguish between destructive pain and legitimate but temporary pain that, while unpleasant, ultimately leaves us stronger and wiser than it found us.
Bryan Hyde is a husband, father, disciple, teacher, guardian, reader, writer, truth seeker, stirrer of pots, radio talk show host, and PITA to those who seek dominion over others. He’s also a proud member of the Pro-Freedom Conspiracy.
He does professional voice work through his company One Clear Voice. He is also a frequent and popular contributor to St. George News.
Bryan and his wife Becky are raising their six children in Cedar City, Utah.
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