I am going to “wing” this post. Admittedly, other than what I studied in college, I do not have a lot of experience with grief. Do not get me wrong, I have had plenty of opportunities over the last few years especially to grieve. I just do not grieve.
Once you understand that “grieving” has to do with recognizing and processing a loss, you can take the steps necessary to moving through the sorrow, and moving on with your life.
As I said, there are many reasons that we grieve, and it is more than just the obvious, the death of a loved one, or someone close to us. Grieving is about loss. It can be sudden, or it could be expected. I will be the first to tell anyone, I do not handle grief well at all. No, I do not sit and weep endlessly, I am quite the opposite. I internalize my grief. In other words, my losses and the feelings that come with them, never go away. I never give them the chance. And the irony is, that the process of grieving is not about making the feelings of loss go away, or forgotten. Quite the contrary, going through the process of grieving allows you to re-build the memories in a positive light, happier times, which, when describing the loss of a loved one, is what the deceased would want.
Grieving is not just about death. We all have lost something other than a loved one. As a cancer patient, I lost my sense of immortality. I lost control of my body and life. Loss of employment for any reason, is just that, a loss that needs to be grieved. Relationships that end should cause a need to grieve. As a pet owner, I have gone through many losses of fur friends. Time that I am unable to see my children, that is a grieveable loss. And of course, death, exposes us to the most emotionally painful of grief.
We grieve, because we have suffered a loss that was beyond our control. Even if we prepare for a loss, expecting it, the pain and sorrow can often be overwhelming. There is no limit to how long a person must grieve, days, years, the rest of a lifetime. But once we are able to move through the initial hurt of the loss, gain even just a little bit of control of our emotions, we can begin to see exactly what the loss means to ourselves.
The above photo was posted on a former classmate’s Facebook wall, a writing by Henry Scott Holland (1847-1918), a professor at the University Of Oxford. Very deep words expressing that the feelings of loss should only be temporary once you recognize what was lost, and what remains. For someone like me, who internalizes his grief, I never get to this point. And I will be the first to tell you, I know this is not healthy. But this is how I have always been. But because of how I handle grief, I am always there for someone else who may be suffering a loss. And this then, is how I handle my grief.
In my 25 years of cancer survivorship, I have met thousands of other patients, not just of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and I know of many more, courtesy of the internet. But my support of cancer patients does not stop at the patient themselves. I often interact with family and friends, caregivers, and even some of their medical team. This explains why I feel a need to grieve, sympathize, and empathize those who have passed, even if I have never met them.
When a patient, family member, friend, or caregiver reach out to me, there is a bond that is created. Someone trusts me enough to know and understand their circumstances. Whether or not I have any advice or counsel that I can offer, just giving someone an opportunity to speak into my ear, or across the internet can give someone hope, they are not alone.
Just a month ago, someone who had come into my life a few years ago, suddenly passed away. I had never personally met her. She had a sister who reached out to me, because she was concerned with health issues. You see, the one who passed was a long term Hodgkin’s survivor like me. And being a great sister (their family is very close to each other), the sister reached out to find help, and found me. I spent the last few years corresponding with the sister, offering any information that might benefit her sister’s care.
Over time, it seemed as if things had calmed down. And then, as I mentioned, a month ago, going in for what is a common and normally a routine procedure, something horrible went wrong, and she passed away. Damage to the heart was too severe, and underestimated. And now, the grieving hits, and it hits hard. I remember reading the post on her wall, written by her husband, telling us that his wife had passed.
I have seen many photos of the family as well as the sisters together. And these are very happy memories. I admire how close they are, and the good times that they have shared. Hopefully my friend as she reads this post, looks back at the photo pasted in this post, re-reads it again and somehow finds solace in it.
There will always be questions. Why? What could have been done differently? Who missed what? But the first step in grieving is realizing that it is okay to cry. It is normal to remember the good times. This is what helps you to move on, and not forget.