“What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other?”

This has long been one of my favorite thoughts, written by George Elliot over a century ago.

With those words in mind, I suppose I always extended it to also include ... “and to make death less difficult for each other” as well.

And with that extended philosophy and intent, I felt I had failed miserably, specifically relative to my father’s recent death on Oct. 31.

I traveled to be with Dad just a few days before his death to bring him comfort, but I could not.

Even when I tried to hold his hand, he would sometimes grasp mine in pain and frustration, and sometimes push mine away from him. He was receiving hospice care, but it brought him no relief.

During his last few days and nights he fought through physical suffering and personal terrors within himself that no one could reach and calm.

In the end, all I could do was cry for him and with him, and feel as if I were letting him down when it really mattered.

The phrase revolved in my mind almost constantly ... “to make life – and death – less difficult for each other.”

My guilt and despair were building and breaking my heart. I could not understand why I was unable to reach him – to help him. Perhaps if I had only tried harder or listened more closely or been more aware.

Then, a whisper seemed to sneak through at the most unexpected time and with absolute assurance.

It penetrated my heart with the knowledge that suffering is, after all, not just a part of our lives but a part of our humanity. And what greater human experience can we have but the ability to feel each other’s pain.

To share it, to weep over it, to feel responsibility for it. And it occurred to me that this is a gift of tremendous worth.

This ability is, after all, the reason we can rejoice for one another, and laugh together, and share the uplifting joy of new babies and favorite music and the friendship of dogs. If we did not have that ability, how lonely life would be. We would know no other feelings but our own.

And what a gift it is for us to be able to share the mirror image of such joy – to feel each other’s pain so deeply that it becomes our own.

To cry with one another with not just sympathy and understanding, but with a shared soul and heart.

I realize that this is not an original thought nor even a particularly unique expression of it.

But it brought me great comfort and acceptance and release at a time when I truly needed it. And it allowed me to be thankful for our humanness at all times.

And to understand that sometimes all we can or need to do is hold each other’s hands even when ours is pushed aside, and cry with one another when there is no comfort to be had. And that is no small thing.

Marti Healy is a local writer, author of the books “The God-Dog Connection,” “The Rhythm of Selby,” “The Secret Child,” and a collection of her columns: “Yes, Barbara, There is an Aiken.”