Q. What does it mean to find peace through pain?
A. We don't ask for pain. It is not something we choose. It comes to us when life hands us a disrupting agenda we didn't ask for. We are still in charge of one aspect, however, and that is how we respond to that pain. If we fight, retain anger and become bitter, we remain in conflict, at war with ourselves and perhaps our world.
If we choose to discover what we can learn from this pain and rise, then we can take control of the conflict. When we are in charge of our conflicts, then and only then can we begin to ease our internal battles and find peace, which I define as the active state of being able to move on positively in life.
And when we can go one more step, to accept pain as a teacher -- as Martin Buber said, "All suffering prepares the soul for vision," -- then we can say we have peace through our pain.
Q. Why did you write the book?
A. Actually, I was writing a booklet on "faith," and to my surprise I found something else happening, something personal. I was ending up with pages expressing what I was learning from the pains of my life. I felt as if I was being led to write this book, that it was important because through it I could help other hurting people.
Q. Was it difficult to write something as personal as this?
A. Not really. I felt I was letting go of a lot of feelings and sharing my story of how I am not
just coping, but growing, from the traumas of my life. Always I felt this sharing might help others,
particularly parents who, like myself, have lost children.
Q. How were you able to deal with your son's suicide?
A. Peter left me a suicide note when he was seventeen. We spent the next ten years trying to understand what had happened to his brain, and what would continue to happen, believing that he could survive. We were wrong.
His death devastated me, but when I reread his notes and re-listened to the long tape he left, I understood even more the depth of his pain. Psychiatrists who deal with suicide call this "psychache," and it is so wrenching that it often, as in Peter's case, becomes terminal. He wrote, "Be happy for your son...My pain is gone." That's the only consolation I have.
Q. How could you face losing another son? -- and by murder -- so soon after?
A. I really don't know. Somehow the strength I was developing from having to deal with Peter's suicide seemed to sustain me in this new horror.
Q. Should life be as difficult, as it has been for you?
A. I don't know. I would say first, of course not. But I don't have all the data. I don't know why I was chosen for these crosses. But I do know I am to learn from them, and no learning is ever lost. Perhaps I am being challenged to learn how to get good out of evil. And certainly, I must never forget that while I have had terrible losses, I also have been given many gifts, like the love of a large family, including my five still living children.
Q. Do you ever ask, why me?
A. I did years ago when Peter left me the suicide note. But not any more. If I ask that, I am
asking a question that keeps a person locked into self-pity. It is a death question. Instead, I ask a life question. What am I to learn from this?
Q. Does any of that pain make sense?
A. No. Pain doesn't make sense. But pain can be a teacher, and if we learn to accept the mystery of why it happens, and the hurt it causes, we don't have to keep fighting it, staying locked in angry conflict. We can find peace through our pain.
Q. What gave you the strength to go on?
A. My loved ones, my belief that life is an adventurous gift, my faith in a Creator who loves me -- and everything and everyone in this universe.
Q. But don't you ever blame God for the deaths of your sons?
A. No. God didn't cause them. God gave a great order to the universe, and then something goes awry -- like faulty brain cells, or a gun in the hand of a kid who blows two people away as they slept in their bed. God could have prevented these deaths by changing the laws of the universe, by giving us miracles. But that's the way creation is set up. God is here, but as the loving Creator who will help me endure while I'm in this existence.
Q. Is there a plan each of us must accept and follow?
A. I really don't know. Yet when I look back over my life, and see what I have learned and what pain has taught me, I begin to view this rather cosmically. I wonder whether we're a clean canvas at birth, destined for a journey home, during which we are supposed to become a great painting? I'll leave that to the philosophers.
Q. What are the barriers to healing?
A. Mainly staying locked in self-pity: losing a belief that life makes sense; unwillingness or inability to move past anger; physical and mental breakdowns; isolation and devastating loneliness; a sense that you are too broken to be lovable, so what does anything matter?
Q. Can pain destroy a person?
A. In my book I quote Hemingway, who said, "Life breaks us all, and afterward many are
strong at the broken places." As for those not included in the "many," they are the ones who stay broken. Yes, pain can destroy a person. To grow strong at the broken places is a hard, hard job, taking determination, resolve, courage and belief in oneself.