How I Learned to Suffer - Part 2

Check out Part 1 of Karen's article How I Learned to Suffer

People ask me how I got through hepatitis C, a year of treatment, liver cancer, and getting a transplant. I can name off stuff like faith, determination, a good medical team, or a support system. I didn’t always have those things. Sometimes I came up empty and felt like nothing was going my way. I suffered. In the end, learning to suffer has been one of the greatest tools of surviving everything I’ve managed to live through.

How to Suffer Well

Suffering is a skill. I can only share what works for me in hopes that it will prompt you to find your own path to suffering. This is beginning to sound crazy, but let’s face it: Life is filled with some suffering and I happen to believe that doing it well makes all the difference.


My suffering practice began as a kid. It started when I was upset. At that time, it felt like aloneness and feelings of sadness. I probably felt it most days.

When situations got me down, I got alone so I could suffer in privacy. That’s because suffering with others came off looking like I was a crying mess or an angry mess.

Find a Place to Suffer

My first start of suffering well began in a Catalpa Tree. The trunk split fairly low to the ground and I scrambled up the left side. Hidden beneath the canopy, a neat fork was formed by 3 branches. It created a perfect seat. When IT hit the fan, I scrambled up to my hiding place. The noise of family arguments or fussy friends was muted and the stress couldn't reach me, tucked safely under the broad leaves, beans, and horny headed caterpillars.

Have Props

A notebook and pencil worked for me. I could write anything and bury it in a time capsule. Writing stuff down brought relief from the stress of life: school work, grown up problems, playground injuries – physical and emotional, the unfairness of being grounded, cleaning my room. I climbed off the ground and up into a tree. I wrote poems, silly rhymes, and tales of princesses and dragons.

I made lists with titles like:

  • Things I will do in the future
  • My favorite flowers
  • People who are my friends
  • Ways to be a good mother
  • How to rescue cats
  • Places I will live someday
  • My future husband
  • Love letters to Donny Osmond and David Cassidy
  • Number 1 hit songs

It’s not too different from what I do today. When life hands me a mess, I can get anxious. Mentally, I can try to avoid the situation. Or I can learn to suffer in spite of the problems in and around me. I still make lists. Many of the lists become blog titles for you to read. Some of them are personal.

Here are recent ones:

  • How to win a gold medal at the World Transplant Games
  • Steps to getting out of bed with a smile
  • Success in staying close with my kids

Suffering has many gifts to offer us if we do it well. There is wisdom to be gained through suffering, but you already knew that.

Check back for Part 3 from Karen about "Learning to Suffer"

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