How to Reap Benefits From the Painful Moments of Life

I’ve experienced a couple incidents recently that remind me of the frailty of life.

First, one of our cats got sick. (Yes, that's a picture of him drinking out of our kitchen sink!) He was a big cat that looked like he should roar. Instead, he had a high-pitched chirp. And he was very loving, earning the nickname “Lovey.” Anytime we needed to track down his whereabouts, we’d usually find him snuggled next to one of the kids on their beds. He’d even climb bunk bed ladders so that he could curl up next to someone.

So, it was with great sadness that we watched our big lovey cat slowly deteriorate over a month’s time. We took him to the vet and thought he was perking up, but even with help, he still kept losing weight until eventually we were practically hand feeding him. During his last few days of life, he stopped drinking, and my husband I worked together to syringe water into him. By the end, he could hardly walk without having to stop every couple of feet and lay down in exhaustion.

Another incident, about a week later, involved our dog catching a baby squirrel. Those who’ve been following my blog for a while might remember that last spring my daughters and I rescued four tiny motherless squirrels that fell out of a tree in our back yard. Ever since, I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for them.

Well, this time, our dog happened to come upon a little red squirrel in the back yard. It was old enough to be out of its nest and zip around the trees with its siblings, but it certainly wasn’t nimble enough to escape our dog. Even though our sweet Golden Retriever only “played” with the baby for a few minutes, she broke a front arm and back leg.

I donned garden gloves, scooped up the baby, and deposited it into an old hamster cage on a soft bed of rags. I kept it warm on a bag of heated rice, syringe-fed it puppy formula, and gave it as much TLC as I could, but it grew continually lethargic until after a couple of days it finally died.

The death of the cat and then the squirrel both really affected me. Yes, I cried. And I felt a heavy, depressing ache in my heart that didn’t seem to want to go away.

Both of the experiences reminded me that life is indeed frail. So many things are like a flower—here today but gone tomorrow. It’s easy to want to pull away and to stop caring in order to protect ourselves from feeling the heartache and pain that come with loss.

But through the death of first the cat and then the squirrel, I tried to tell myself the pain never has to be wasted, that we can reap so much from the painful moments of life, particularly as writers:

Don’t avoid the pain. The painful moments in life help us appreciate the joys of life with more keenness. If we taste of bitterness, then when we finally bite into sweetness, it will be all the sweeter.

Pain can make us stronger. The longer I live, and the more heartache I experience, the stronger I grow as a person. I gain wisdom, perspective, appreciation, and more character through each challenge.

Channel the emotions. Let them flow into our books and bring them to life. The more deeply we allow ourselves to feel the joys and pains of life, the more passion we can pour into our stories.

Keep life in perspective. It’s short. We don’t have forever. Remember the things that matter most, especially when we’re discouraged by rejections, low sales, or stinging reviews.

I know one of my writing strengths is that I’m a passionate person. I’m passionate about life, about cats, about baby squirrels, about my family, about many things. I feel things deeply, which comes with the deeper heartaches but ultimately higher highs.

Hopefully, the more passionately we feel things, the more passionately we can live out the time we have on earth, and the more life we can bring into the stories we write.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: When we write, we pour out our hearts and souls; when we live, we fill our hearts back up.

How about you? Are you letting your pains and difficulties make you into a better writer? Are you channeling your passion into your stories?


  1. I empathise with your two losses. I had a cat that died when I was younger. It was sad, too, and we'd only had her for a few months.

    I think writers or anyone who has to continually put themselves out there to get rejected has no choice but to channel their pain and find a way to make you stronger. It definitely gives you patience, and a deep admiration and respect for all your fellow writers.

    Have a great weekend.

  2. Thank you for this post. So much truth. I think the stories I want to tell are inspired in part by traumatic experiences. Those moments were painful but full of emotional richness, which I know will make me a better writer. How else will I be able to write "dark moments" that ring true unless I've experienced hurt, betrayal, disappointment, and despair myself?

    I never thought of myself as a particularly passionate person, but it's something I'm learning to develop. And I'm starting by figuring out what I love about books and reading so I can infuse that passion into writing.

  3. I'm so sorry to hear about Lovey and the squirrel. Our pets become part of the family and when they leave us it's devastating.

    Passionate writing always shows up on the page -- even if it's filled with typo's and POV issues. Anyone can write. It's writing with passion that counts.

  4. Aw, so sweet, those animals we love! I had to put my beloved 16 year old dog to sleep exactly one month after putting my beloved 18 year old cat to sleep and oh my—talk about heartbreak. To be present for both euthenizings(?) really taught me a lot about how in an instant there is life, then death. I didn't know it at the time, but those experiences prepared me for watching my father-in-law breathe his last breath after his battle with cancer one year later. *Sigh*

    Yes, I do try to channel my pains & passions into my writing. It's not easy, but I believe it's essential in creating authentic characters. Nice post.


  5. This is one of my very favorite posts from you! Well done! I'm with you - passionate to a fault about everything. And while it has its annoyances (I sometimes wish I could dial down the passion) - I know it makes me a better writer. And secretly - I love being a passionate person. God intended us to drink deeply from life, and I think the passionate ones do that very well.

  6. Thank you all for your sweet words! I'm starting to feel emotional all over again! :-)

  7. Sorry about your cats. I wish I could say I'd do the same for the squirrel but red squirrels give us so much grief! They wreak havoc in our house so I don't have much sympathy for them or think they are cute. :) Glad you do.

  8. Pain does make us stronger. You can't avoid pain and grief, they always catch up with you.
    I relate to pouring your emotions into your writing. I cry and laugh as I write my novels.
    We found a baby bird on the pool cover the other day. My daughter and I were nearly sick, tiny thing!
    Sorry for your loss, have a lovely weekend.

  9. Hi Jody,

    Your heart. Your sweet heart!

    I tend to say that I'm an intense person, when what I really think what I mean is passionate. I also feel things deeply.

    And yes, I bring this right into the heart of my work.

    Empathy breeds believable writing.
    ~ Wendy

  10. I'm so sorry about your cat, and the baby squirrel. You are right, though. We have to feel the hard times as much as we feel the good times, and grow stronger from them.

  11. Most definitely!! One of my life's greatest trials fuels many of my emotions that I channel into my stories.

    Jody, I so sorry about your sweet cat! That had to be difficult on all of you.

  12. So sorry to hear that you are having a bit of a hard time at the moment.

  13. During some reading lately it became aware to me why one my spiritual gifts is Empathy. Sometimes I do not like to reflect on the pain, but well when I can make my ownself cry with what I've written then I feel I have accomplished the scene correctly and my story is stronger for it. Thanks for the reminder to use what I know, what I've experienced and to allow it to grow me.

  14. This made me teary-eyed, Jody. It's so true. We want to avoid future pain, but we can use the pain to be better people. I still miss Cookie (our kitty who passed on) and it's been months. She was such a big part of our lives. I'm so sorry about the loss of your Lovey.

    Thanks for this post.

  15. I said a final farewell to a good friend this week. She has taught me how to be strong even at the weakest point in my life.

    Sorry to hear about your furry friends, they do tug at our heartstrings.

  16. I'm right there with you - being a passionate person. I feel passionately. It's just part of who I am. I think it might be something many writers have in common.

  17. I appreciated your comment about letting yourself feel the pain.

    I try to ignore it when bad things happen. A few years ago, I received news that a friend had committed suicide. He was young and was a shock.

    I didn't cry. I tried to ignore it.

    Then, one of our cats who had been in an accident, took a turn for the worse and needed surgery. She didn't make it.

    I eventually found myself "crying for no reason". The real reason being that I had not allowed myself to express emotion for a friend (human and feline).

    Sorry for your losses!

  18. Love this thought: When we write, we pour out our hearts and souls; when we live, we fill our hearts back up.

  19. It's so tough to lose a loved one, even the furry kind. Writing can be such a catharsis in trying times; thanks for the reminder.


  20. I am soo sorry to hear about your cat and the squirrel. It's so hard to lose pets because they are just like family.

    I think it's important to pour moments like this in your writing because it's something that no matter what genre you're writing in readers can relate. It adds realistic emotion and depth to your story that you can't get anywhere else but from the heart.

  21. So sorry to hear the news about your kitty...pets have always played a pivotal role in our family. Thanks for sharing your lessons learned through this experience.

  22. You're so right about this, but it is so hard! A tender McDonald's commercial will make me boohoo, so it's been a real challenge for me to go deeply into the pain as I write.

  23. I'm so sorry to hear about Lovey and the squirrel. Three years ago we had to put our 16 year old dog down, and I still feel the pain.

    Your words are spot on, Jody. Whenever something bad happens, it's nice to try and find the silver lining. It's not obvious at first, but there is one. And it's good for our children to see how we react to heartbreak, hopefully teaching them how to deal with it in their own futures.

  24. I'm sorry about your Lovey cat (and the baby squirrel too). It's so very hard to say goodbye to these day-in-day-out friends who are such a part of our lives. My faithful true-love dog is ten now with terrible arthritis and I know she won't be around forever. It's hard to read about your loss and not think about that.... they really do break our hearts!

  25. This just reminds me that everything happens for a reason, and often one facet of that is to help our writing and communicating endeavors. I've been reflecting along similar lines this past year. Thanks, Jody!

    Have a great weekend,

  26. Thank you SO much for all of your lovely condolences today. It's so comforting to know that others have gone through similar experiences! I appreciate you ALL! :-)

  27. Jody, I'm so sorry to hear about your cat and the baby squirrel. Life is precious, be it human or animal. I'll pray that God comforts you while you heal from the losses.

    Writing helps me deal with the pain and adversities that I suffered earlier in life. I'm grateful for the time that when I didn't have a voice, God gave me the gift and passion for writing to get me through. Now I want to use that same gift to bring glory to Him now.

    Excellent post and advice, Jody.

  28. Thank you for sharing that with us. I grew up in the farm country so we were constantly rescuing birds and I understand that connection you can have with seemingly helpless little creatures. Sometimes emotions like you described are easier to recognize through bonds with animals because we're all a little desensitized to our lives that we take for granted. I'm very thankful I have writing as a tool to pour some of that passion out.

  29. Sorry for your losses. It's not easy losing a beloved pet...or even a sweet squirrel.

    I do let pain guide my writing at times. You can always feel the real pain when you read something by an author who feels it.

    Great post.

  30. So sad to lose such a beloved pet and the poor little squirrel. I lost my Jack Russell Terrier just over four years ago. She had been with me 17 years. I wrote a story of our last day together and felt like I had saved a little bit of her along the way.

  31. I know the hard times have made me a better writer. I can't say why exactly, but I'm sure of it. Somehow they work on me indirectly. Perhaps they strip away the unnecessary things I might write, the presumption and arrogance and self-absorption.

    Odd how that works.

  32. I'm so sorry about your losses, and thank you for turning them into such a fertile post. Bravo!

  33. I just rescued two weeks-old kittens from a patient's home when he had to go into a nursing home. I have a dog at home who doesn't like any competition, and no knowledge of what to do with cats - but my heart was so hooked that I couldn't do anything but bring them home. They were pitiful and the little gray one was so week - she died while I was holding her the next day. The little black and white one stayed with us for a few VERY CHALLENGING days, but now she is healthy and happy and has a new home where she is loved and cherished - and her name is Willow. This was an interruption that I had not planned, and didn't have time for, but God knew that I needed a lesson about how things matter. Little things, like kittens, saying thank you, helping someone during your day - putting your heart out there to be touched, tugged on, and even broken. We all need those moments that take our focus from ourselves and remind us that there is a world out there beyond our front door. When we can put those emotions and experiences on paper and make them come alive we can touch where people live - that's what I want to do as a writer. Thank you for sharing.

  34. I'm sorry about your kitty :( and the poor little squirrel. I remember trying to save rabbits when I lived on Cape Cod. They never lived. I have a friend who saved a mouse though and he's still happily alive.

  35. I'm so sorry about your cat and the squirrel. I also think it's very profound that you advise to feel the pain. I know my instinct is often to run from the pain, but it's so much healthier to truly feel it and, as you said, channel it into our writing.

    Thank you for sharing this, and again, I'm sorry for your losses.

  36. Thank you, everyone! You're all so sweet! :-)

    And Sherri, I agree. Taking care of little creatures is a lesson in an of itself. It does help us to remember that the little things in life matter!

  37. Jody--we love our fur babies and you have my sympathy, certainly. We've had two cats pass across The Rainbow Bridge and two cats left, who are stripey twins and love to drink out of the faucet, so your picture is great. Also, Fathers Day will be tough tomorrow, because it's ten years since my dad passed.
    It's important to bring that into writing. I swear, I channeled my brother who was killed in 1969 for one of my characters. I kill off one of my favorites and it almost killed me. Real-life experiences give us more tools in our tool box for writing and sharing. And helping our readers and ourselves get through those tough times in the future. Thanks!

  38. Your title caught my eye, Jody. It's the painful moments that are the stuff of memoir, as I've discovered. My memoir was released May 17th, and is doing well on Kindle, and also in paperback, though unlike yours it isn't in bookstores. Print copy is best found through the publisher. The cover of YOUR second novel looks awesome. I'm excited for you.
    Ann Best, Memoir Author

  39. This is a really great post, Jody. (All of your posts are.)

    I totally get this: "I feel things deeply, which comes with the deeper heartaches but ultimately higher highs."

    And this is a powerful truth: "When we write, we pour out our hearts and souls; when we live, we fill our hearts back up."

    Thank for sharing!

  40. You have such a sweet and compassionate heart, Jody!

    The children at church recently sang the hymn,
    All things bright and beautiful,
    All creatures great and small,
    All things wise and wonderful,
    The Lord God made them all.

    and I recalled your squirrel. Losing little creatures, whether our pets or tiny wildlife, is especially hard when we've tried so hard to save them. I've had to part with far too many dogs through the years and it's like losing a member of the family.

    God doesn't wish harm to any living thing but he comforts and brings us through the pain. So yes, I agree. I think we feel those difficult emotions for a reason and are better able to convey them in our writing when we have experienced them.

    How great is God Almighty,
    Who has made all things well.

  41. Awh such a cute squirrel too. So sorry about the cat and the squirrel. I can imagine you are lovely with animals. Our dog is giving us grief chewing everything including the carpet up but we'd be lost without her now.

  42. And I'm immensely late commenting again. It's a shock, I know... ;)

    But I really wanted to hit this post because I know how hard it is to lose a pet. Pets really are members of the family and when they pass, it's a blow to all. My condolences on the loss of Lovey. It's especially hard to watch a pet fail slowly, but you did what you could to keep him comfortable to the end.

    Great advice as well on how to channel that emotion into something for our writing, but also how it's all right to grieve and then to learn from the experience.

  43. Aw, Jody, sorry about your kitty and the squirrel.

    I've experienced much pain over the past several years, and it has impacted my writing. I'm more empathetic and can relate to a character's tragedies on a deeper level.



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