A good friend recently told me that his father may have cancer. As someone without cancer, I cannot speak to that side of things and what his father is going through. But as someone who has lost three very close loved ones to cancer, I can speak to the grieving and supporting side of things.
Background: My dad passed in 2008 after a long battle with prostate cancer. He’d beaten it once before and lived for 10 more years after the first round. In his 60s, he wasn’t as strong, and slipped away. My mother passed in 2013 after being diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer in 2012. She fought it for an entire year, then wrapped up a too-short life at 52.
I still cry when I think of my parents. I cry as I write this. And in the last two weeks, my mother has visited me in my dreams five times. I’ve had more dream visits from her these past two weeks than I’ve had since she passed (almost two years ago now).
With that, I have some experience with loss and grieving, and try to help anyone I can with this as best I can. If there’s one positive thing I can get from this, it has to be helping others.
For any of those dealing with a terminal loved one in any way (or if you are someone who is terminal), this message is for you. I felt it was important to share for two main reasons:
1. To give words I wish were given to me when my father became terminal, and
2. To let you know I’m here if you need me.
Here’s the message I sent my friend:
I’m sorry to hear that. Never apologize for venting. My dad and mom both had terminal illnesses, so I had to deal with it twice.
The first time around with my dad, I was in denial and faced a lot of regret in not spending enough time with him. With my mom, I was prepared for what would come.
My best advice is to be there, to be strong for them. Sometimes people get really caught up in how their loved one’s illness affects them and they unintentionally handle it selfishly. They begin to wallow in their depression, going into seclusion, and distancing themselves from their terminal loved one because they’re scared. It’s natural to want to do this, but when that feeling that you want to hide starts creeping in, remember that your loved one is facing the ultimate sadness and depression. We forget that while this does affect us, it affects them more because this is it for them.
When I wrote “Can’t Understand,” it happened as a result of this realization. I dreamt of my mother. In it we were hugging and crying, and I just said to her “I’m sorry this is happening to you.”
That’s some deep stuff, I know. I cry just thinking about her. But just remember to be there for them, because they’re so scared, and they need you more than they’ll ever admit.
Let me know if you need anything. I love ya.
There’s one last piece of advice I want to add to this: go to the doctor! Get regular checkups and talk to your doctor about what’s going on with you, even if it seems small. My mother didn’t have health insurance. She got hurt on the job and was in a long battle with Worker’s Comp — if you’ve dealt with this you know how challenging it is to deal with Worker’s Comp; they make you feel crazy and tell you all your symptoms are psychosomatic.
So without health insurance or income, my mother didn’t go to the doctor until it was too late. And that seemed to be her biggest regret: not doing something sooner. She fought death because she wanted to live. She knew she couldn’t hang on anymore, but she still fought leaving us. So please, if you have any health concerns (even if you think you’re being a hypochondriac), at least let a doctor assure you there’s nothing wrong with you. Or maybe you’re afraid to find out what is wrong with you, and you’d rather not know. Trust me, at stage IV of cancer, you’ll wish you’d done something sooner. You’ll want more days with your family; more days with your friends. You’ll wish you’d laughed more; wish you’d done more. Don’t let that be your regret. It really is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your health, because with death you don’t get any do-overs.
I know this doesn’t cover all loss. Most certainly it doesn’t cover sudden loss and the anger and pain we feel when that happens. But if you are someone who has a terminal loved one or is terminal, I hope this helps. And whatever kind of loss or unfortunate thing you’re dealing with, I’m here and will help where and how I can.
My loss is not greater than yours, and yours is not greater than mine. We’re just humans who are going through the cycles of life, and if we can’t do anything else the least we can do is commiserate and lend a hand in whatever way we can. This is my way.
More on the song “Can’t Understand”
I was at the Fish Bowl (a local bar if you’re unfamiliar) right after my mom had died. A friend I’ve known for a while had just got dumped by her boyfriend of seven years. Continue reading “Can’t Understand: Death & Dying”