The Sharing of Pain

Live together, die alone. While this is the title of a memorable episode in the TV series Lost, it was a different show that caused me to reflect on this maxim. Namely, Ada Milea’s The Island (“Insula”, original title in Romanian). The show was powerful beyond description, so I won’t even attempt to write a review, but it’s brought some thoughts to the forefront of my mind that, I think, are worth mentioning.
The Island is, quite obviously, a metaphor of loneliness and the suffering it entails. Throughout the show, the main character, Robinson, seeks relief from his loneliness through just about any means possible: by taming a savage, by finding love, by becoming reunited with his family… And while all these attempts fail, the one involving his family is the most potent example of how SHARING loneliness – or just about any form of pain or suffering – doesn’t help in any way to actually alleviate it. Most telling in this case is the scene where Robinson “cries” because his mother is going to be killed (or at least “consumed” … by society, by her other life, by her own needs… I guess that depends on just how many metaphorical meanings one chooses to see in that scene). They sit together and they repeat, over and over again, as in a ritual: Cry, my son. I am crying, crying, crying.
Evidently, both mother and son have their own issues, pains, and sorrows, and, while they both try to share these with each other, it is the mother who demands most explicitly that the son share in her pain so as to relieve the burden. She works on the assumption that her biological son is naturally SUPPOSED to commit himself to living with HER pain, even though that does nothing for her in the actual sense of providing some relief. So even with the closest of human bonds – that between a mother and her child – the sharing of pain remains impossible.
Hence, live together, suffer alone. And with this realization comes a new understanding of the concept of survivor’s guilt. Because if we equate pain with death – and what else is death if not the culmination of pain? What else is pain if not a step towards death? – survivor’s guilt, the post-traumatic experience of a person who LIVED through an experience that marked the end of someone else’s life – in particular someone dear – it becomes clear that such guilt is experienced by just about anyone who sees a loved one go through a painful experience, regardless of whether or not it ends in actual death.
Now, one of the telltale signs of survivor’s guilt is the helpless frustration of not being able to prevent the other person’s pain/death. Or to alleviate it, relieve it, remove part of the burden. And most of us do experience such guilt several times over the course of our lives. Some people even go as far as to actually end their own lives (either through actual suicide or by burying themselves in their desperate efforts to compensate for what went so terribly wrong). Would it help such people – would it help any of us – if we understood that, no matter how much you love a person, no matter how close you are to them, no matter how HARD you try, the sharing of pain is and remains impossible?
Maybe si, maybe no, as Wireman would say.