Friday, December 8, 2017

Stealing Grief

It happened again as I awoke this morning. I relived a moment in time that I can’t seem to shake completely.

While visiting a few family members several months ago, I had an emotional melt-down, a complete loss of control. It took one set of words built upon by another set of words to take me there. A place I didn't want to go, but go I went. Those words flowed into my ears, my body trembling as I heard them. I reacted by leaving that room escaping into another while throwing out a vile word as I fled. Those words between me and two others fueled by those two hoping to control my thoughts about another broke me. It brought the mountain of rubble in my life tumbling down upon me. Cancer has taken enough control from me; it makes me weak as it lives at the edge of each my thoughts. I needed to hold on to the hope that the two people I love will once again have a relationship after their anger toward one another has softened. The conversation confirmed that the empty space between them will grow once I am not there to fill it. There will no longer be me to bring them together with stories of how the other is doing. It hurts me so much.

In that other room away from everyone—but really not—sitting on the floor with my back against a closed door, I sobbed, bawled, and even wailed at the most intense moments of my pity-party before my rational-self returned. The troubles of my internal world surfaced needing to escape, so I let it. 

I learned later, begrudgingly, that the people present in that moment characterized my crying as rage. There were moments I am certain I sounded angry. I was. But, no punches were thrown at walls, all furniture remained unmoved, no door was slammed.

In the midst of that emotional outburst, I needed—hoped—everyone there would seek to understand why I reacted the way I did. But they didn’t. Instead I was shut out when I returned to that kitchen table. The curtain had been closed. I was ignored. No one bothered to ask questions in an effort to understand my loss, the grief I was feeling concerning me and the estranged individuals who have not talked to each other for seven long years.

Our society doesn't like grief. It's uncomfortable. Instead the grieving, or depressed, must drug themselves or see a therapist giving their pain to a stranger so loved ones don't have to deal with it. This is a sad commentary played out daily in our world. A world in which people do a great job of offering money, clothes, and food for people they know or will never meet. Few, though, are able to offer emotional help. Sadly not even to the people right in front of them. Emotional support is the hardest to provide. It requires time and patience. It is an offer of help that can expose themselves to someone's pain, or potentially their own. Who wants to do that to themselves? Yet, it may actually be the most necessary and most beneficial kind of support. The best help isn't always from material things. The best help can be to offer a sympathetic ear, to engage in conversation; it doesn't have to be about sad things either. Take time to ask an individual about themselves. Allow them to share their feelings or just get them to talk. It will make that person feel you care. And maybe for those few moments they will forget about their suffering.

Later, the two people who were engaged in the conversation that brought me to the place I am today, showed compassion and understanding. For that I am grateful. They showed they cared.

I thought that would be the end of it. I returned home and life continued as it always does. But it wasn’t. The saga of my outburst followed me into the next week. I received two letters: a solitary note and another neatly folded atop a book called The Second Bookend—I have yet to open it; it is supposed to be a guide for the dying showing how to approach the end of their lives with love instead of fear. For the writer of the letter, perhaps, it was the best they could offer in terms of helping, but the words they chose to write for me to read were biting. On a white piece of paper weren't words of warmth, caring, and support. Instead the writer wanted me to know they thought I would one day commit suicide. SUICIDE. Imagine how abrasive that was to read.

I have thought about why someone would choose to commit suicide. I have thought about how a person might think that their lives are meaningless to them and to others, how the emotion of hope for a better tomorrow for them was lost and their place in the world not worthy of their living in it. I can imagine being so sick physically, so tired of being sick, so tired of feeling like a burden on others that you just want it to stop. I believe assisted suicide should be an option for anyone with a terminal illness because death is inevitable. The end will happen, and we must accept it. But for me? No. I have never felt so broken that I thought about killing myself. Will I ever? I won’t know till I do. All of this begs the question—why the hell would anyone think sharing their thought that one day the person they were speaking to would commit suicide? How is that an appropriate response to the emotional behavior of a terminal cancer patient or anyone for that matter? Is that what should be said to someone who is grieving the loss of so many things including the loss of the relationship between two of that person’s family members?

Obviously, I continue to be troubled by the response of one person to my emotional outburst of which I apologized for and one of which I hold deep regret that I lost control. This person was not involved in the conversation that led me to hide behind a door flinging my sadness into that bedroom. They didn't know the complete history between me and the other two people who were at that kitchen table. Nor did they know all the words spoken between us. They were a distant observer.

Though the thoughts of that one emotional hour over a weekend of many hours have lessened, her words will go under my list of "things NOT to say to a cancer patient ever!" I must remind myself that people have their own ideas of how to handle struggles, and though some may feel my way is wrong, it is my way. I write. I think. I talk. I yell, and I cry--not always with such intensity. Today, instead of crying, I am writing. Now that my thoughts are here in front of me in an attempt to soften the blow I felt by the words of another, I tuck my sadness back inside me and put my feet in motion. I'm off to tackle the rest of my day leaving behind that moment in time. I have more important things to tackle.

I read a blog writing by someone once whose words have stuck with me—I wish I could remember her name. She said, “They stole from me the desire to grieve the way I needed to grieve.” I think that is what happened to me on that day in June. My grieving was loud and uncomfortable for those few people present. And yes, I didn’t do it the way some think I should have, but it was my way of grieving. I didn’t hurt anyone; I didn’t hurt myself; I simply grieved. 


  1. I am so sorry. That is horrible. And cruel, in my opinion. I cannot understand why people are cruel to each other, and when it’s someone they purportedly love ... well, I suppose that each of us must determine for ourselves whether it’s worth having that person in our lives. A decision which involves many variables personal in nature. I hope you are able to move forward and let the pain go in the way that is best for you.
    Cathy S.
    p.s. I was delighted to read your last post!

    1. Thanks, Cathy, if I was tougher emotionally, this whole event wouldn't bother me so much. Even so, the further away I get from it, the less I think about it--one good thing about time.
      Thanks for reading my last post! I am hopeful the good news will continue after my January scan.