Cancer is nothing when you have hope!! This site is all about living … and living well … with late-stage cancer. I hope you will journey along with me through the ups and downs of living with lung cancer.
I recently got back from the trip of a lifetime to Israel. I had never traveled internationally before, so this trip was a really big deal to me! We booked the trip, which didn’t take place until mid-January, in early September. That left a lot of time for me to fret over what all I needed to do to prepare, what clothes I needed to take, what precautions I needed to make. I am not usually a worrier, but I must have read the information that the travel agency sent us a hundred times to be sure I was getting everything right.
But, this article is not about my trip to Israel. I’ve written a couple of other pieces about that. No, this has a sadder theme.
We are entering the time of year that joins families far and wide together. We celebrate Thanksgiving and then come Hanukah and Christmas celebrations. It is a blessed and sacred time for many of us.
Remembering my son this season
It is also a time of reflection and sorrow, especially if you, like me, have an empty chair at the table this season. The holidays take on a whole different dimension when we’re celebrating all that is good in the world when it doesn’t necessarily feel like anything is.
Someone on WhatNext lost her mom. She was having a hard time dealing with her death at the same time as beginning treatments for breast cancer. I wrote some suggestions, based on how I have dealt, so far, with the loss of my son.
I hope some of these suggestions will be helpful to you as you deal with your own grief. I realize that everyone deals in their own ways. If none of these work for you, it’s okay. You’ll make your own way.
It’s About Faith
1. I have a VERY strong faith as did he. I know that he is at complete peace, in the arms of Jesus right now. I know that I will see him again when God decides to take me Home.
2. I know that God does not make mistakes. I might not understand His Plan, but I know His Plan is perfect. That is enough for me. (Who knows what horrible things my son may have been spared by dropping dead as he did? I know for sure that he didn’t suffer. He didn’t have to go through battling cancer. He didn’t have to face losing his dad or me.)
Remembering the Good Times
3. I remember the good times we had together. I smiled all the way through going through 1000s of pictures. It was so fun to see him as a child, teen, and adult, having a great time, acting silly, hugging his wife and/or children…
4. I write. I wake up in the mornings and just write what is on my heart at that moment. I write for my own gratification. It isn’t always for publication. However, I also write sometimes for others to read, publishing blog posts, either on my own site or on LungCancer.net.
5. I am a glass-half-full person. My mind is trained to look for the positives in life. Even as we were driving to the hospital, not sure if our son was going to be alive or dead, I told my husband, “There are two good things if he has passed away: (1) he is at perfect peace now and (2) his ex-wife can no longer use him as her whipping boy. I took comfort in those positives then. I still do.
You Gotta Keep Living
6. I have stayed very busy. I felt like my mind was in chaos and so was my house because I had let it go a lot since I started lung cancer treatments. I can’t do a lot about my chaotic mind, but I can clean. Even my cabinets are more orderly now than they have been in many years. (I have plenty more cleaning to do … so I will be kept occupied for a long time.)
7. I don’t think my son would want or expect me to quit living because he died. I imagine he would be encouraging me to continue living, continue fighting. During the first few frantic days after he died, I thought, “I’m quitting treatments. My reason for living is gone. There’s no need to keep fighting. I’m sick of going through treatments anyway after six straight years of it.” But, when the time came for my next appointment, I was there, getting my treatment.
No Matter What … It Can Always Be Worse
8. Someone else always, always, always has it worse or what you’re going through could always be worse. Knowing that somehow makes me feel better about my own circumstances. My son could have lived, but have been in a vegetative state due to lack of oxygen, he could have been diagnosed with some awful disease like ALS, he could have not met his wife and had 4 very, very happy years prior to dying, something could have happened to one of his children …
Well … these are a few of the ways that I have maintained a semblance of sanity. They are listed only as they came to my mind, not in any particular order of importance.
For 43 years, my son was pretty much my whole life. It is strange to realize that since he was our only child, and the only grandchild for my mom … we have no legacy left. That feels really weird … and changes my perspective completely on accumulating things… Things I always assumed would pass on to my son … can’t be given to him after all. (We do not see his children – the ex-wife made sure of that).
Needless to say, his death has turned our worlds upside down. We’re left with so many changes necessitated by his leaving us. But, life goes on for those of us still here on earth. We can wallow in our sorrow or we can honor his life by continuing to live our own. I choose the latter.
You must think I have lost my mind when I write that there are worse things than cancer. Most of us really haven’t thought so since we or our loved one received that awful diagnosis. And, maybe you’ll argue that I’m wrong, that there really aren’t worse things than cancer. Maybe it is just a matter of perspective.
Where I’m coming from
On November 2, 2018, I received a call that no parent wants to get. My daughter-in-law was calling to tell me that she was following an ambulance to the nearest hospital. My son had suddenly and unexpectedly quit breathing. No warning. Just, one minute he was fine and communicating and the next minute he was on the ground, lifeless.
You died on November 2, 2018. The Medical Examiner didn’t release your body for several days. Then, the crematorium has taken forever with you. But, finally, today, they called and said we could pick up your ashes.
It is so crazy. I feel so much better knowing you are “coming home.” You’ll ultimately be put to rest in the National Cemetery, but I am glad to know where you are for now. (And, I’ll know where you are when you are entombed at the cemetery, too, of course.)
I couldn’t explain where I am with all of this if someone offered me $1 million. What difference does it really make where your ashes are? I know, without a single doubt where YOU are – you’re walking on the streets of gold in Heaven – but it has been so uncomfortable for me not knowing where your ashes are … where what remains of you here on earth is.
The days that go by get harder and harder instead of easier. Maybe by picking up your ashes, I will start to settle back down a bit. Not knowing where you (your remains) have been has really been disturbing me.
So, I guess I will go get cleaned up so that Mom, Kim and I can go get your ashes. I don’t expect it to be easy, but I actually think at this point I am going to be more relieved than sad. I guess that’s the blessing of it taking them so darn long to get you back to us.
For some reason, every time one of my friends knows someone with lung cancer, they turn to me for comfort. I don’t really know why, except that they know I have “been there done that.” I’m very happy to help in any way I can. More often than not, the person with cancer doesn’t want to talk to me, but their loved ones do. I guess I give them some perspective on what it is like to live with lung cancer.
My son died unexpectedly on November 2, 2018. He wasn’t sick. He was just here one minute. And gone the next. Let me tell you, THAT is a shock. Here it is, a week and a half later and I am still in complete shock. I am nearly certain that I haven’t accepted that he’s really gone just yet.
About the same time as my son passed away, an acquaintance lost her old dog. It was old and it had always been a mean dog. Not one that most people would particularly like. I’m not making light of the love the owner had for the dog; just saying that most others wouldn’t have felt deep affection for it.
Enter Facebook. Almost without exception, the comments from mutual friends to the person who lost their dog read as more heartfelt, more tearful, more broken-hearted over the less-than-nice dog dying than my son, a human being, passing away.
A World Turned Upside Down
The world feels pretty upside down right now … and those Facebook responses from dog friends didn’t help. Don’t get me wrong. Some of my friends have brought us food, a few have sent cards, and several have contacted me to be sure I am okay. The person who lost the dog posted about trees being planted in the dog’s honor, cards received, and it escapes my mind what all else. Two people who I met through my dogs have brought food and another one, who has also lost a son, sent me a card. No trees… No promises of attending his memorial service (after all, it will interfere with their dog sports).
Bitter? Maybe a little. Maybe this is grief talking. Maybe it isn’t. I have long had misgivings about how my dog “friends” react to a sick dog compared to a sick person or, in this case, to a dead dog compared to a dead human being. Somehow, the dog generates deeper, more heartfelt emotion and I just.do.not.get.it.
I love my dogs. I do. They give me great comfort. They make me laugh. They fill me with peace. They give me something to do – walk, play agility, tug the toys, or just cuddle on the couch. They give me a ton of love. My heart nearly explodes with love for them.
Dog vs Man
But, the pain of losing a human does not compare to the pain of losing a pet. Here are some of the reasons why:
When we get a pet, we know that we are going to pour our hearts into them (and them into us) for 15 years or so, if we’re lucky. They just don’t have a long lifespan. I wish they did. It hurts like hell when they die. But, when we get them, we know that we will likely have to say goodbye to them one day (unless we’re old when we get them).
Not everyone is like me, but when I lose a pet, I rush out the next day or within the next few days and get another puppy or kitten. I cannot bear the pain of losing them, the emptiness of the house without the beloved pet that passed away. The new pet doesn’t take the place of the one who died, but it does help feel the void. It gives me something to love. It gives me new joy and laughter. And, so begins the next 15-year or so journey.
I had one child. I carried him in my belly for 9 months. I loved him before he was born. And, I loved him every day of his 43 years. The expectation has been that he would bury me, not that I would be tasked with not only birthing him but also returning him to his Maker. That’s backward.
There is no running out and getting another son. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. That hole, that void, that inconsolable sorrow can’t be filled by anyone else. There will never be another child in our life. There will never be another son in our life.
Life will continue without my son just as it continues without a lost pet. But that great big black hole right in the center of me will never be filled by another person or another pet.
It’s Hard, losing a pet
I totally get how hard it is to lose a pet. Over my long lifetime, I have lost a bunch. And, believe you me, I have shed many an inconsolable tear over them when they go. But, I knew when I got them that I would someday suffer through their loss. No one gets a pet that doesn’t know they’ll have to one day say goodbye, hopefully later rather than sooner.
But, I will never understand, not now and probably never, how people have more compassion over the loss of someone’s dog than they do over the loss of a child, even if that child is an adult. It is hard to know what to say or do, I guess, but they seem to know what to say and do when a dog dies.