The Unseen Pain: Understanding the Hidden Struggles of Others

Earlier this summer, the town where I live suffered a tornado. Due to the dry climate, Denver rarely sees tornados. However, this day was different, humidity was high, and the temperature was just right for the formation of a destructive super-cell, or more commonly known as a tornado. It indeed was an unusual occurrence with scary results.

It ripped a path along a major street in a suburb of Denver. Many of the trees destroyed were 25 plus years old. In Colorado’s younger communities it is a huge deal to have trees live 25 years. Colorado has its force of nature with harsh cold winters, unseasonal heat and insects that prey on evergreens. This tornado on June 22, 2023, ripped up evergreen trees 2, 3 and 4 stories tall, their massive root balls pulled from the ground and tossed aside like a child’s stuffed bunny.
It hurt my heart to see such devastation to the trees that were so small when I moved into the area. I watched them grow from small gangly Charlie Brown trees to ones of beauty, fullness and providing shade. They added character and majesty to the roadway. At Christmas time they are decorated with lights that match the stars of the sky. And now, so many of them are gone , in an instant, like a bolt of lightning. Here and then flash – gone. More than likely, the city will not replace them. There will be scars in the ground where they once stood and an open space they once occupied.
I am blessed my home was not directly impacted. The tornados’ path of ruin was about 1 mile south-southwest of my house. My neighborhood experienced some residual damage. It wasn’t until several weeks later that I felt the aftermath. During my evening walk with my dog, I heard a sound that I couldn’t identify or find where it was coming from. There wasn’t anyone else around – not a pedestrian to be seen or a car to be heard. I backtracked a few steps to hear better. I couldn’t believe what I found. It was a Silver Leaf Maple tree groaning with the slight breeze. The tornado winds stressed the trunk creating a crack which blended in with the lines of the bark. At a quick glance, the damage wasn’t obvious. Only upon closer inspection did I see the crack. The groaning noise that the trunk made was caused by the wind moving the tree. It was similar to that of the creaking floorboards in my parents’ home in the 1960s, eerie and creepy.
Once I identified the damaged trunk, it made sense that the tree was groaning. With a larger gust of wind, it would completely break. However, while the tree was waiting for its fate, I felt it wanted to share its pain. It had a story to tell. This may sound a bit crazy, me standing just inches away from the tree and listening. I couldn’t help but to stop and wonder about the pain this tree was experiencing. For the most part, on the outside, it looked healthy. The leaves were still bright green, it was nicely shaped, and it was well rooted.
As I stood with my ear pressed on the trunk and my hand lightly touching the bark, I felt a deep sense of remorse. Before my eyes, this tree was dying. I knew that this tree wasn’t going to last much longer before succumbing to the damage. I envisioned the groan progressing to a few pops – the sound that popcorn makes when it is starting to pop. Slowly, one, two, three then pop-pop-pop one right after another with the individual pops becoming undiscernible. The inner rings of the trunk would no longer support the full weight of the tree causing it to list to one side and come crashing to the ground with an earsplitting round of cracking and popping, ending with a loud thud and woosh of the branches and leaves.
Standing under the night stars listening to the tree groan, I thought about a song by R.E.M., an American rock band. The title of the song is “Everybody Hurts.” The lyrics describe holding onto life, not giving up and emphasizes sympathy and understanding for people going through difficult times. It further lets listeners know they are not alone in their suffering.
If there is one thing I’ve learned since my son took his own life is that he was suffering from some sort of pain – physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual or a combination. He hid his pain, just like the tree hid its pain. My son dropped hints here and there about his troubles, not enough with one person to cause concern. He was like the tree, cracked but not broken, until one day, the wind swept in and took away his strength to withstand anymore. He succumbed to his pain and left the pain behind when he ended his life.
I encourage you if you are hurting, no matter the reason, to reach out for help. You may be in pain, like my son, grieving for a loved one, experiencing the loss of a relationship, or financial ruin. Covid has changed our world with death by the virus, loss of community and now vaccines that are endangering our lives. Self-doubt, uncertainty, lack of self-worth, hopelessness, depression, and anxiety – there is help. You don’t have to suffer. My heart goes out to you.

Take a few minutes and listen to Everybody Hurts, R.E.M. – Everybody Hurts (Official Music Video) – YouTube. I hope it encourages you to live, love, and laugh.

Look around, there is someone who is cracked and hiding their pain. Stop and listen to their story, empathize with their pain. Sometimes all we want is to be heard, even if it is a tiny groan.
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