The night my mom died I stayed by her bedside.
I had caught the 18-hour flight from Mongolia, arriving in time to hear the doctor say, “Hospice.”
My sisters were exhausted from the years of care they provided mom while I was away.
“Let me have some time with her,” I said.
Dad reluctantly went to bed as well.
Jet lag got the best of me and I found myself more than once waking up from my night watch.
Sometime around two in the morning, mom, referencing my work with the street children, asked “What’s it was like to work near the suffering?”
I didn’t know what to say besides, “It’s like this.”
She was too tired to fight my reply but shook her head, denying her own suffering.
I knew better than to argue with her.
Mom was one who often put herself lowest on the priority list.
This is likely why her funeral filled the largest church in our community with mourners, many of them calling mom, “My best friend.”
She didn’t like a lot of attention but loved to give it.
Mom refused to wear a pink ribbon to represent her breast cancer fight.
“Why does my cancer get a ribbon?” she’d ask. “It’s not fair to everyone else who is suffering with a different type of cancer.”
Mom is no longer here to smack me with her fly swatter, so I’ll go ahead and argue with her now.
If I could go back to that night, I’d say what I was thinking.
Suffering is suffering.
Comparing suffering is like trying to compare pain.
When mom was first diagnosed with cancer my sisters would call me with updates.
“Mom’s pain was at a six today,” they’d report.
I’d wonder what that meant,
Pain is pain.
Stepping on a tack stings and stepping on a Lego is unforgettable but ultimately, they both hurt like mad.
If mom said her pain was at a one, then we would celebrate a “good day.”
To me, a good day would have been a day with no pain.
Perhaps after you’ve lived consecutive days at a six, when a one kind of day rolls around it feels good.
Suffering in any degree is suffering.
If you lose your job, you suffer because you can’t provide for your family and you feel your self-worth slipping out of reach.
If you lose your child, you suffer because your heart is broken forever.
If you lose a chance with the guy you are crazy about you suffer because you tried and failed to win love.
Orphans suffer, cancer patients suffer, lovers suffer.
All of it hurts.
A month after mom died, I returned to Mongolia.
On my first day back to work an orphan girl brought me a paper rose.
Although she had never known the love of a mother, she felt my suffering worthy of her compassion.
What if we too saw past the levels of suffering and simply beheld broken hearts?
May we all love the sufferer beside us.
SHARI TVRDIK is director of special projects and communication for Cup of Cold Water Ministries. From the four corners of your living room to the other side of the globe, the mission to live God’s love is always and everywhere.