How to suffer with others

To suffer with another person does not mean to drown one self in the other’s suffering; that would be as foolish as jumping into a pool to save a sinking swimmer only to drown oneself. More to the point, I doubt that it is even possible to enter fully into another person’s pain, for suffering is a profoundly solitary experience. To suffer with another person means to be there in whatever way possible, to share the circumstances of the other’s life as much as one can- not to add to the world’s pool of suffering, but to gain intimate understanding of what the other requires.
What we usually learn, once we are there, is that there is no “fix” for the person who suffers, only the slow painful process of walking through the suffering to whatever lies on the other side. Once there, we learn that being there is the best we can do, being there not as a cure but as a companion to the person who suffers on his or her slow journey. There is no arm’s length “solution” for suffering, and people who offer such only add to the pain. But there is comfort and even healing in the presence of people who know how to be with others, how to be fully there.
The Active Life by Parker Palmer


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