Today’s thoughts are completely random, but they are in my heart and I want to share them. Grief is a road we all have to walk eventually and if my random thoughts can help someone that’s what I want to do.
A dear friend posted a video yesterday by a woman fighting metastatic breast cancer. She didn’t look like a stereotypical cancer patient. She looked vibrant and had a full head of hair. She looked to be about 40. Not the person I’d expect to be shooting a video educating people about metastatic breast cancer. For those unfamiliar with the term, metastasis is the word used for when a cancer has spread from its original location. Cells leave the primary tumor and establish themselves in a new location. In the case of breast cancer, the lungs, brain, and bones are common sites for metastasis. The woman in the video had metastasis to the bones.
She talked briefly about cancer. She spent most of the time talking about her experience with cancer. I watched the video because I wanted to hear about her experience.
As I watched I did so knowing that the topic of breast cancer is a touchy one for me. Both my mother and grandmother died of metastatic breast cancer. I pressed play knowing that I could very well be a mess of tears by the end of the short video. I took the risk because I was feeling strong and I really wanted to know what this woman’s experience was like. As it turned out, I got through the video without crying. However, I have lived with grief long enough to know that it could have turned out very differently on a different day.
My mother died of complications of breast cancer in 2006. She died suddenly and my entire family was devastated. My grandmother died of complications of breast cancer in 2012 after being very ill for several weeks. I can’t say that we were prepared for her death, but we had some warning. With my mother there was none. Each experience was horrible in its own way.
The thought that came to mind as I watched the video was that grief is a wound that never heals. It will not always be a raw and gaping wound that debilitates. Over time it shrinks and settles into a place that will allow you to function. You can go on. You can enjoy life. And then, sometimes inexplicably, the pain will erupt, leaving you completely shattered. Grief changes, but it never goes away.
And so you learn to adjust like people with physical injuries learn to compensate. You watch for situations that could trigger you. You don’t watch or listen to certain things and avoid the places you need to. You try to be kind to yourself and take each day as it comes. That is one of the things that surprises me the most: things can change wildly from one day to the next. Things that upset me yesterday could be fine today and vice versa. Each day truly is a new adventure.
I don’t want to paint a picture of gloom and doom. People survive the loss of a loved one, but they are never, ever the same. This is an experience that changes a person in ways you can’t even imagine.
Janet Jackson recorded a song called “Broken Hearts Heal” in which she reflects on the love and loss of her brother, Michael. In the chorus Janet says, “Broken hearts heal stronger, broken hearts last longer.” Strangely, I think she’s right. Yes, grief is a wound that does not ever fully heal, but the other parts of your heart become stronger after a loss.
Yes, parts of my heart will never heal, but the rest of my heart is so much stronger. I have much more compassion for other people. I really take delight in the good things in life. I hug often and give encouragement freely. I am more present. I smother my husband with kisses because it’s Tuesday. And I am committed to making the most of every moment because I realize how suddenly it can all come to and end.
If you are struggling through grief, be patient with yourself. Take each day as it comes. Get help if you need it. I highly recommend working with a grief counselor. And don’t let anyone tell you what grief should look like. Everyone is different. Every day is different. It’s okay.
If someone you love is grieving, be flexible and love them well. Don’t feel like you need to have all the answers or say the right things. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to just be present. It may not seem like it, your mere presence can sometimes be all the comfort someone needs.
And for anyone grieving or caring for someone who is, prayer is always recommended. A wise friend advised me to do what is life-giving as I waded through intense grief. I hold on to that even now.
So here I am thirteen years later. I miss my mother and grandmother every day. That will never change. Loss has wounded my heart forever. But it is stronger than before. Yours will be too.