Friday, 19 August 2011

Finding meaning in Suffering: Lessons from Dr Frankl

Dr Viktor Frankl related in his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, an incidence that can help us - or those we care for - appreciate the meaning of suffering.

He said:
“Once, the mother of a boy who had died at the age of eleven years was admitted to my clinic after a suicide attempt. [She was invited to join a therapeutic group where she told her story.] ... At the death of her boy she was left alone with another, older son, who was crippled, suffering from infantile paralysis. The poor boy had to be moved around in a chair. His mother, however, rebelled against her fate. But when she tried to commit suicide together with him, it was the crippled son who prevented her from doing so; he liked living! For him, life had remained meaningful. Why was it not so for his mother? How could her life still have a meaning? And how could we help her to become aware of it?”
Dr Frankl asked her to imagine herself at the age of eighty, on her death bed, looking back over her life.

This is what she said:
"I wished to have children and this wish has been granted to me; one boy died; the other, however, the crippled one, would have been sent to an institution if I had not taken over his care. Though he is crippled and helpless he is after all my boy. And so I have made a fuller life possible for him; I have made a better human being out of my son.’ At this moment, there was an outburst of tears and crying, she continued: ‘As for myself, I can look back peacefully on my life; for I can say my life was full of meaning, and I have tried hard to fulfil it; I have done my best-- I have done the best for my son. My life was no failure!"
Dr Frankl further commented:
“… viewing her life as if from her deathbed, she had suddenly been able to see meaning in it, a meaning which included even all of her sufferings. By the same token, however, it had become clear as well that a life of short duration, like that, for example of her dead boy, could also be so rich in joy and love, that it could contain more meaning than life lasting eighty years.”