Watching is HARD

I have to admit, it sounds rather obvious.

If you read the title of this post and chuckled, I won’t judge you. Saying ‘Watching is hard’ is like saying ‘Water is wet’. It is practically a tautology!

It seems like a waste of time.

And yet, I’d like to argue that it is needed. I don’t think it is enough for us to simply state that being a Watcher is difficult, any more than we should simply state ‘the crucifixion means salvation’ or ‘pi = 3.1415926535897932… (and so on, ad nauseam)’.

Rather, we must ask ‘why?’

Why is it hard to watch someone we love suffer? I know the very question sounds ridiculous, and if you are tempted to break out into a snigger again, I’m still not judging you. But bear with me. Let’s delve deeper.


Watching impacts our life

To state the obvious, Watching is hard because it negatively impacts our life. What does that mean? On a prosaic level, Watching often requires us to give up things we love. We may be called to sacrifice money, time or career advancement in order to care for, or properly love, our Loved One.

On a more profound note, we may have to give up relationships, health, freedom or other enjoyments. Quite often we’re not even given the choice. These things, these ‘indelible rights’, according to the American declaration, are simply snatched away by the illness and circumstance – and this can be frustrating at best, and deeply agonizing at worst.

This means that at times we can feel as though being a Watcher has taken over our identity, or even destroyed it entirely. Its responsibilities and disruptions can gobble up our life. It is emotionally and physically exhausting to Watch someone else suffer.

Watching changes our identity

Watching impacts us in a deep way. It not only chips away at our identity, but it also adds to it. It presents us with a host of issues and problems which we might not have otherwise. Perhaps it means we struggle with guilt.

Why are we healthy while they are so sick? How dare we have fun while they grimace? How can we leave the house and forget about them, even for a moment? How dare we go out while they are housebound, enjoy friends while they have none, savour a good meal while their intake is bound by restrictions? In short, what gives us the right to live the life that is denied to them?

These are hard questions.

And when the guilt goes away for a bit, there’s the ever-present knowledge that our life is not ‘normal’. Others have healthy loved ones, we do not. While we worry about whether or not our Loved Ones will be there when we get home, healthy tomorrow, alive in a year… others do not. At times it feels like an unbridgeable chasm lies between us and even our closest of friends. Watching is often an un-applauded task. We may feel alone, even abandoned, at the very least misunderstood.

This is a hard reality.

Watching = helplessness

To Watch is to admit, however implicitly, that we are helpless. We Watch because we cannot Do. We are not in control of the situation; we cannot make it ‘all better’. There’s absolutely nothing we can implement to fix it. Yet suffering so close to us demands a response. Unlike some ‘lucky’ ones, ignorance is not an option.

We have seen, and we cannot unsee.

And so we Watch. This is uncomfortable and undesirable. To be unable to turn away from something that’s causing us pain. To know that we have chosen to Watch and yet we never chose at all. To admit vulnerability, helplessness and a complete lack of control is hard.

“Pain demands to be felt.”The Fault in our Stars, John Green

Watching is offensive

Watching directly affects our sense of justice. We all have one, whatever our moral code. There is an inbuilt sense of indignation within each of us, which in its basest form argues ‘I don’t deserve this’ and in its most benevolent: ‘They don’t deserve this’. At times it comes out in anger. Why is this happening to me? Why not them? How dare my life be ruined before my eyes? How dare God leave me with no escape? Doesn’t He care? Doesn’t anyone care?

Of course, if you take away the ‘deserving’ side of things – who are we to say what we deserve? – Watching is still a justice issue. Is pain ever right? Are tears of agony ever moral? It is hard to live with injustice.

Watching changes our relationships

Watching also affects our relationships. All suffering does, but especially illness. Illness changes people. It reduces them to tired-er, shorter-tempered versions of themselves. It means we can’t enjoy things with them that we may enjoy with other people. It means we may find them pathetic or frustrating, or at the very least harder to love. A relationship with them will most likely be harder work, and perhaps less rewarding. To find that illness has tampered with the ties that join us as brothers is hard.

Watching is hard for God

Lastly, Watching is hard for us because it is hard for God. Jesus looked over Jerusalem and wept. He demonstrated the reality that it is agonizing to watch the object of our love suffer. It is painful and heart rendering, because we are relational beings. We were made for relationships. We all have ties and friendships and understandings and symbioses. When these are broken we break too. How, my friends, can we expect Watching not to be hard? It is hard for God and it is hard for us. If someone is suffering and we find ourselves not suffering alongside them, perhaps something is wrong.

It is good Watching is hard.

Watching is hard for many reasons. Some of these are honourable, some are not. Some are avoidable, many are not. To find Watching difficult is a good thing. It is difficult. It is agony at times.

My fellow Watchers, let us find it hard for the right reasons.

// What do you find hardest about Watching? Is it any consolation to you to know that Watching is always going to be hard? Why or why not?

Don’t be a silent reader – join the conversation and comment below!


Author: Emily J. M.

Hi, I'm Emily. Two of my closest family members struggle with chronic illness, and I watch them. That's hard, and so I write about life as a 'Watcher', what it looks like to support them and find Hope.

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