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Dr. Bill Austin

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Relationships by Dr. Bill Austin


I am fascinated by the saying, our suffering and hardships can become our bread.

As I ponder this statement, I thought of a friend's father who died when my friend was a teen. It was one of the most difficult times for him. He said what helped him the most was what the funeral director did for him and his family. My friend found the funeral director a caring person who guided him through his loss. As a result, my friend decided that he wanted to be a funeral director to help other people walk through their grief. He turned this tragic event into his bread, and has been helping people in our area for years. We all probably know others, and it may be us, who have found their calling – the bread – because of some difficult event.

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Tragic events can move us to compassion, and can turn our suffering into our bread or freeze us in our own pain. At our family reunion this summer, we picked out a word and tried to define and illustrate it. One of the words presented was "compassion." Compassion literally means "to suffer together." Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another's suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering. One of the meanings that stood out for me was the definition from Latin. The etymology of "compassion" is Latin, meaning "co-suffering." Compassion involves "feeling for another" and moves us to help others with their suffering or loss.

The etymology of "compassion" is Latin,
meaning "co-suffering."
Compassion involves "feeling for another"
and moves us to help others
with their suffering or loss.

When I try to illustrate compassion, my wife Karen's grandmother comes to mind. I will never forget her funeral. People from all walks of life and ages came to her funeral. They all had a story of compassion in regards to Karen's grandmother. The stories included how this grandmother took them in, stood up for them, courageously faced their abusers, and gave them a safe place to be. She was their safe place and had made a huge difference in their lives.

Grandmother's story is one of being deeply wounded as a child. Her wounds did not turn her into a bitter person but gave her eyes to see the wounds in others and to reach out to them with compassion. Her wounds became her bread.

Compassion is using our pain to help others. We cannot take away the pain from others, but we can share what has helped us work through our own pain. In truth, it is the pain that molds us, shapes us, refines us and becomes a tool for growing and helping others. In our grief group, we do not take away the pain of others, but use what pain has taught us to help others work through their grief.

Dr. Austin has decades of experience dealing with relationships. He charges clients on a sliding scale according to their ability to pay. His first book, Creating Our Safe Place: Articles on Healthy Relationships, was published in 2004. His second book, Keeping It Safe, was published in 2009 and can be purchased through,, and at the Parrish Book Store in Virginia Beach.  He is also a sought-after speaker at meetings and seminars.

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