One of the hardest adjustments to accept after any type of loss is the never ending, always present, gut wrenching feeling of grief. Whether it is the loss of a loved one, the loss of a home after a fire or tornado, the loss of a job, or a mourning of one’s health - grief is there. An excellent article can be found in Family doctor, org at https://familydoctor.org/grieving-facing-illness-death-and other- losses/ which states that even the loss of a pet or a change in one’s life such as retirement or moving causes sadness. Both family practitioners and oncologists are realizing that the loss of health is a huge factor in grief and depression, and of course cancer qualifies.
But when does grief end? Recently I heard one of my friends talking to another one who had been recently widowed. The widow had just described a beautiful ceremony involving the spreading of her beloved husband’s ashes. The first friend asked “Are you OK now?”
I looked at her in amazement as did my friend. I wanted to shout, “Of course she is not OK – it has only been a year. She is better, but will always mourn those years she lost her husband and missing out on watching the grandchildren grow up together.”
My friend answered calmly, “Yes and no. I have my bad days, but I am better than I was a few months ago.” What she was describing was the difficult process of making the grief hurt a little less each day.
While I was driving home, I reflected on why I had reacted so negatively to an innocent question that was meant to be helpful and not mean at all. I did not say anything at the time because I was so upset. Then I realized I am still grieving my cancer diagnosis from 8 years ago. I have worked and worked on accepting this disease of Myelodysplastic syndrome that is without a cure. I know my life will never be the same again. I will not ever be well or free of chemo and treatments and shots and blood counts and bone marrow biopsies. I have slowly become used to my new way of life. Just as my friend is adjusting to being alone.
However, grief is not a straight line. Some days we cope and other days we cave. Saying we are OK is not possible. My wise friend who said “I am better than I was a few months ago” said it all. That is how one copes with any loss or depression. Sometimes I know I have quality of life and other times I think about the old way I felt before cancer. I reminisce on these days when the shadow of a disease slowly worsening was not there. When I would work all day and go out every night and did not get so tired I cannot move. When I did not have to figure out every single task around my chemo. I am still grieving but I have to remember that this is a loss that is not a straight line or predictable. Grief is strange – it undulates, it ripples, it moves up and down, it tantalizes, and it is tough. But then it recedes a little so I can cope and say “Yes, I am OK today.” That is all I am promised. It is all any of us are promised and it has to be enough.