Category: Grief

Just Stay Positive?

"You will be just fine" has long been a problem for me. No matter what horrendous circumstance one is facing, what one needs is support and validation, not cheer-leading. Discounting a person's feelings and implying that everything can be solved by being positive does a great disservice to the ill or injured or depressed or bereaved.

But at one time or another, I suspect we have all said it. I know I have. Do we say it to reassure others? To reassure ourselves? To deny what's going on?

And beyond that, there is "Just stay positive." Another soul shrinker that:

  • implies you caused your own cancer with your negativity
  • burdens you with being in charge of getting well
  • causes infinite pain if cancer eats at you until you die

I have a poem to share with you:

You Will Be Just Fine

Please do not trivialize
my suffering.

You who are healthy
You whose mortaility is as yet
Only dimly preceived–
Please do not say
"You will be just fine."

I may well be–someday–
But I do not know…
You do not know…

(Excerpted from Fine Black Lines: Reflections on Facing Cancer, Fear and Loneliness, (c) 1993, 2003 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad. All rights reserved.)

And tell me why you think we keep saying, "You will be just fine."

 

Why Am I Alive? Why Is She Dead? No. 4

The White Horse
(for Ann)

Death comes on a white horse
to carry you away

I see the love in Her eyes as
she lifts you carefully
and cradles you in Her arms

You go willingly, eagerly,
even though you know

you can't come home again

(Excerpted from Fine Black Lines (c) 1993, 2003 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad)

I miss you, Ann.

Why Am I Alive? Why Is She Dead? No.1

Pink Underbelly has an interesting post on her blog about a trip to her oncologist's office, ending with a paragraph on survivor's guilt.

I agree with her that it doesn't make sense to dwell on feeling guilty because we have been spared from dying of breast cancer. So far. Breast cancer is not a contest to see who has had the toughest time. It is a life-threatening disease that can recur at any time.

But twinges of survivor guilt do plague me from time to time.

And this is August, the month in 1991 that one of my best friends died. She refused nourishment from the beginning of the month, but didn't die until the end. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987. Did she beat breast cancer and then die of stomach cancer? Or did she die of metastasized breast cancer? I'm not sure I know. She died.

And this is August. The month that her husband asked me to plan her funeral, just six weeks after my second mastectomy. He said "What I need for this job is a good anal-retentive German!" That I am. It was hard for me, but it was the last gift I could give her.

And as I contemplate why she died in her mid 50s and I live at almost 82, do I feel guilty? Perhaps. But I neither caused her death nor prevented my own. I feel sadness for her and deep gratitude for myself. She would have loved her grandchildren as I love mine.  

I'd like to share a journal entry from August 2, 1991:

She called me today to come say goodbye. Remembering how much my teddy year had comforted me the night after my second mastectomy a couple of weeks ago, I took Courageous Lion to her. She immediately drew him close.

I assured her that I supported her decision to refuse the intravenous feedings, even though we both knew what that meant. I could see she felt peaceful and that has continued to sustain me.

(Excerpted from Fine Black Lines: Reflections on Facing Cancer, Fear and Loneliness, (C) 1993, 2003 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad)

 More to come…

 

 

Survivor’s Guilt

 

This morning I read a great post by Dr. Ann Becker Schutte about survivor's guilt. It is difficult to see other breast cancer patients diagnosed with metastasis. (However, not nearly as hard for us as it is for them.) It is hard to see loved ones die as we remain NED and very much alive. And I have often felt that as we "celebrate" our survival we are somehow dishonoring those who have not survived.

While I certainly have had my share of "survivor's guilt," sometime I think of it this way:

Eventually everyone has illness, sorrow, death in their life. Everyone's turn comes. My guilt does not remove the suffering of the person about whom I feel guilty. My sorrow does not heal those who are bereaved – they still have to travel that journey as best they can. And I definitely believe that I should help where I can and empathize when I can, but I have also realized that my turning myself inside out to do so doesn't necessily translate into the other person's being made whole.

My turn has been here before and will come again. Meanwhile, I try not to spoil the good fortune of a given moment when a good moment appears.

These are just some of my thoughts. Dr. Becker Schutte's post and the many wise comments will probably help you a lot more!

 

Died Too Soon,Too Late?

One of my nephews (age 58) suffered a massive stroke on January 16 that left him with greatly diminished ability to communicate. He could not walk or use his right arm much. He went from hospital to rehab to a care facility where he lived (?) until he died on May 16. On June 16, I attended his memorial service and read this poem I had written for him. I loved him dearly. 

For Ken

I remember you as cherished child—
the faded photo featuring 
      three little cousins sitting on a step
      you were the two-year-old
      sweet little blond boy
      with big brown eyes

I remember you as terrible teen—
      every issue requiring debate
      every topic subject to argument
      nothing beyond questioning

I remember you as maverick man—
      your kind and generous heart
      your tender thoughtfulness
      your gentle spirit

sometimes buried beneath 
blankets of indignation
      eyes shooting fire of outrage
      voice shaking with fury
            at the injustices of the world
            at the unfairness of life

Your illness and death a lesson in unfair—
       untimely, unexpected, unwanted—
       You were not through with living
       We were not prepared to lose you

But you slipped away that spring afternoon
      free from the fetters of frustration
      liberated from the long loneliness
      ready to roam without restraint

And when you are ready to rest—
Rest in peace, beloved grandpa, father, son
Rest in peace, beloved brother, friend
Rest in peace, dear one, rest in peace

©2012 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad