The power of pain to make a difference

As nurses, we want to protect others from harm or, if it is too late for that, to fix what is broken: body, mind or spirit. It is difficult to accept that there are things beyond our control. Things which we cannot foresee, prevent or repair. It is incredibly hard to imagine how someone, especially the parents of a young child, can possibly go on with the business of living after a tragedy. And yet, somehow, they not only carry on, they become powerful forces of change.
On May 24, an arrest was made in a 33-year-old New York City murder case. The alleged killer of Etan Patz–whose disappearance sparked a nationwide campaign to put missing children’s photographs on milk cartons to increase public awareness–made a full confession to the authorities.

My husband happened to be passing through JFK Airport that day and reported that the effect on everyone was profound. Even people who were not even born when Etan went missing were affected by the news story.

I have always been amazed at the incredible things that grow out of grief, outrage and pain–especially in the aftermath of a senseless tragedy. The Amber Alert System, Megan’s Law, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, America’s Most Wanted and The Center for Missing and Exploited Children are examples of pain turned into power.

These people, who have experienced unimaginable tragedy against the most vulnerable members of our society, our children, have taken their pain and grief and channeled it into some of the most monumental laws and resources ever seen in American society.

As nurses and healthcare providers, we rarely see the event or outcome that leads people to mobilize their strength, energy and resources from tragedy into triumph. And all too often we are witnesses to the aftermath of physical and psychological trauma and unimaginable horror.

We try to find some sort of answer for what happened, to try to make sense of the senselessness.

And in the midst of it all, there are people who take their own pain and make a difference.

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness but of power. They are messengers of overwhelming grief and of unspeakable love (Washington Irving).

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