Finding Meaning in Suffering - My Mom's Story

By Steve Flynn

When my mom was in her 20's, with four young children, she was diagnosed with complete kidney failure. To this day we are still not sure of the cause, but it was complete and not reversible.  

While many face similar loss of health, what stands out about my mother's situation and shaped my outlook on life, is how she reacted.

For treatment, my mother decided to do dialysis as long as her body could handle it to prolong the need for a transplant. She opted for a kind of dialysis that could be done at home with a machine that performed the work of her kidneys at night, complimented by cycles of dialysis delivered twice daily via an IV pole. 

While there were certainly tough moments, what's amazing is her and my fathers refusal to allow this to stop us and change our quality of life. 

I remember packing for family vacations and attaching a U-Haul trailer to the back of our woody station wagon so we could fill it with boxes of dialysis solution. We would pull over at rest stops so that my mother could hook up to her dialysis solution, hang the bag from the handle above the window and keep on driving. 

We would arrive at the hotel and my three siblings and I would form an assembly line to unload boxes from the U-Haul. My family made a decision from the beginning that we would not let this significant challenge hold us back. 

If this were not enough, my mother also faced cancer a few years later. Again, refusing to let it change her attitude or hold us back, she pushed forward with life. She beat her cancer and like the other challenges she overcame, saw it as another opportunity to help others facing similar struggles. 

Now after two kidney transplants, my mother is still as strong and optimistic as ever. She chose to use her story to help change the lives of others and has had many amazing moments to share. 

A culmination of this was when my sister-in-law was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 33 (read her story at My parents happened to be in town visiting and my sister-in-law had planned to have dinner at our house the night she was diagnosed. My mother was there to comfort and encourage her. 

She has been an amazing example of someone that has used her suffering to help others, instead of letting it define her life. This decision has influenced my life, the life of my siblings and the lives of many others who have heard her story over the years. 

So what will you decide? We all face challenges. Will you choose to allow your struggles to keep you down or will you choose to fight and push forward realizing the pain you go through has meaning? As ironic as it sounds, pain and hardship can be incredibly clear indicators of purpose. My mother uses her pain to help others. 

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from a famous author, Viktor Frankl: "If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering."