04/21/2011 05:42 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Terms of Heartbreak

Utter desolation on a child's face, an indication of deep harm inflicted on a young body, heart and mind.

There is little worse for a child than sexual and/or physical abuse. It's hard also for those who would willingly take on the child's history and pain if somehow doing so could help.

I work with professionals who work with children who have survived abuse. Nothing specific can be said of the children's lives here in this forum, but something can be documented about the toll it takes on all those touched by their experience.

Facing the reality of essential violence and base violation perpetrated on a child almost always triggers an inner process of dropping away, no matter a professional's training and expertise, no matter the presence hope and help.

I know; I just watched help march into a room filled with heartbreak. This child's world will be safer now that the perpetrator is known and named. Hope and help come with the tearing off of silence and secrecy, but in the process, a family's safe haven has just collapsed, and my colleague's hearts have broken a little more, once again.

I write about the toll of child abuse on the adult advocates who offer protection, healing, solace and justice. It's obvious and proper to feel compassion and empathy for the victims; it's less obvious but equally proper to care for their caretakers. I refer to the medical professionals and social services staff, law enforcement and mental health clinicians, administrators and lawyers -- all trained, all experts in their fields, and all human, empathic and sometimes stricken.

Everyone in the team here today will go home tonight and grieve, though no amount of grieving can undo the wrong. They will go home and grieve, and then go on picking up the pieces for this child, the community and themselves. They all know, already, that this child will haunt their hearts long after the investigation closes, the therapy concludes and the perpetrator is punished. This intervention team, and others like it, carry an awareness of all children who live through such horror and bring their histories into the light.

You and I know people like this, professionals who carry such horrors as they seek healing, justice and a safer world for the children. When you next see one of them, witness their pain if you can. Just be mindful, and acknowledge that they face the ugliness of human experience because they hold the greatness of compassion.

They can't tell you their stories, and if you have not chosen their line of work, you may have no wish to know the particulars. But they can share their personal heartbreak, and you can lighten their load.

And if you work with abused children, then find a mirror and gaze into your own reflection with honor. The best in you serves the hurt, the violated and the terrified in them. The best in you also keeps you human, makes you feel the pain and forces you to grieve. Nurture compassion for the children, and care for your own heart, too.