7 Reasons Watching someone you love suffer is the WORST

Is there anything worse than seeing someone you love suffer? When my little sister was in hospital for three months, I thought many times it would be easier if it were me instead.

reasons why watching someone else suffer is the worst www.calledtowatch.com #caregiver #struggle #chronicillness #writer #hope #chronic #faith #watching #prayer

Me with a brain tumour.
Me shaking in pain.
Me screaming in agony.

But I wasn’t given the option to exchange lives. And you probably haven’t been either.

So in the name of honesty here are 7 reasons why watching someone you love suffer is the worst: are these reasons the same for you?

  1. Watching someone you love suffer takes time.

It gobbles up your life.

Am I being dramatic? I don’t think so.

Hospital visits, travel, gift buying, worrying, doctor’s appointments, grocery runs, dinner making, card writing, snuggling, hugging, praying, sitting by their side – all these things take time!

You may do all of these or just one of them for your suffering loved one… but either way you could be doing something else.

Relationships, gym visits, homemade meals, sleep, appointments, Bible reading, career advancement, study, success, can all be snatched away when someone you love is sick. We may not even be given the choice, and the results can be severe.

Related: How to survive the chaos of a chronic illness diagnosis

  1. Watching someone you love suffer changes who you are

Having a friend who is chronically ill impacts us. It adds responsibilities and exhaustions – and it takes away naivety and freedom.

It forces us to ask deep, painful questions:

Why are they sick and we healthy?

Are we allowed to have fun when they can’t?

Is it wrong to forget about them for an hour?

What do we do when we can’t do anything?

After watching someone you love suffer, you will never be the same person.

7 reasons why watching someone suffer is the worst www.calledtowatch.com _ #chronicillness #suffering #loneliness #caregiver #pain #caregiving #emotions #faith #God #Hope (1)

  1. Watching someone you love suffer leaves you feeling alone.

When someone we love suffers, we experience a new reality. Others have healthy family members – we do not. We worry about whether our loved ones will be there when we get home – others do not.

We think about the future and wonder whether our ill friend will still be there – others never give it a thought.

Them. Us. Ourselves. Others.

At times it feels like an unbridgeable chasm lies between us and even our closest of friends. Can anyone know what it is really like?

We may feel unapplauded, abandoned and misunderstood.

Do you ever feel alone? Why?

  1. Watching someone you love suffer means you are helpless

To Watch is to admit we are helpless. After all, the reason we “watch” is because we cannot “do”. Try as we might, we can’t fix the situation; we can’t “make it all better”.

This is heart-breaking.
It’s also terrifying.

Watching is a reminder of our fragility. It’s a confession of our lack of control, our vulnerability. It’s uncomfortable. It’s frustrating.

And yet we cannot turn away. We have seen – and we cannot ‘unsee’. In this too we are helpless.

[Do you have Pinterest? If so, you can use these images!]

  1. Watching someone you love suffer is offensive.

Sickness and suffering attacks our sense of justice.

Whatever your moral code or religious belief, I think there is an inbuilt sense of indignation within each of us.

At one time or another we have all complained, “but I don’t deserve this!” or, (the nicer version?) “they don’t deserve this!”

If you take away the notion of “deserving” (do we deserve? Who gets to decide what we deserve?) – suffering is still a justice issue.
Is pain ever right? Are tears of agony ever moral?

Chronic illness is not ‘fair’ in the truest sense of the word. It’s not directly related to any single action, any isolated choice. We don’t (yet) live in a ‘fair’ world.

Watching means living with injustice every day. And this is hard.

  1. Watching someone you love suffer impacts your relationships

Illness changes people. Suffering alters lives.

It does so on a micro level: people in pain are reduced to tired-er, shorter-tempered versions of themselves. They can’t enjoy certain activities. It makes them harder to love. Harder to care for. Harder to spend time with.

Chronic illness also affects your relationships on a big scale.

You may be a child, but instead you are the parent. Perhaps your children should be taking care of you by this time, but here you are, caring for them. Or your friendship is one where you are always giving, and never receiving. This is hard.

It may also mean you may have difficulty relating to ‘well’ people. You may have less time for them. You may not understand them.

You may find yourself taking out your frustrations towards your sick friend on them – because they are able to ‘take’ it.

Illness tampers with the ties that bind us together.

  1. Watching someone you love suffer is hard for God

It’s not surprising that watching suffering is hard.

It was hard for God too.

Jesus looked out over Jerusalem and wept. He knew that it is agonising to watch those we love suffer. It is painful and heart rendering because we were made for relationships.

We all have friendships and understandings and symbioses – and when these are broken, we break too.

Why do we expect Watching to be easy?

It is hard for God and it is hard for us.

//What about you? Do you identify with any of these? If you could add to the list, what would you include?

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(updated November 2017)

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.

6 thoughts on “7 Reasons Watching someone you love suffer is the WORST”

  1. YOu are correct. It is HARD. Currently my elderly father is in the last stage of Alzheimer, very decrepit and very out of it mentally. I have been caring for him for many years full time. And now, our beloved cat, who is 12 years old is vomiting daily with streaks of blood in it, which is crushing my heart.
    Money is tight with Covid, so we can’t pay to have her treated. It’s just a lot right now.

    You are so right: witnessing someone you love decline, and suffer…and the things you do to assist them out of both love and duty…changes YOU on a deep, fundamental level.
    I’m no longer the upbeat happy person I once was. I have seen things, and experienced things, and developed a level of empathy that I believe most “regular” people have not.
    It is hard for me to relate much anymore to the happy life events that most people take for granted.

    When this is all over, and I have my freedom back, I wish to seek a few weeks of therapy, to just cry and talk. And hopefully, as time heals my wounds, I will be able to get my happy back, and have a normal life again.
    You are not alone. There are many like us out there.

    1. What a difficult journey you are on. It can be really tough with so many things at once, and it sounds really hard. I’m sorry that you are going through this, and pray that you can reach out to friends and faith for support. You are right in that Watching changes you, and also grows you. I really like your attitude of proactively seeking help and healing. Even therapy while you’re on this journey (if possible) is so valuable – sometimes it can help find your happy amidst the hard. I will pray for you right now. Thank you so much for your comment! We are not alone.

      1. We are on our way to Heaven! Thanks for Jesus and His Living way … He is The resurrection and The life

    2. I am definitely with you and only know that God has a future for us without pain sorrow and death … He will make all things new … He loves us and gave us His Son to die for us for eternal life by believing in Him

Thoughts? I'd love to hear from you, friend.