“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal. “ ~From a headstone in Ireland
It seems lately, that many folks I know and care for are dying or have died, from one form of cancer or another. It has a bit of a piling on feeling at the moment. Each of them have left loved ones behind and I’m having a hard time deciphering my grief from losing the person who has died and the grief and pain for those loved ones left behind. How to comfort them in some small way in their journey through the loss of someone so dear to them. It seems quite impossible really. There is little comfort for them. I understand how it is that people disappear when a person is going through stuff like this, if they feel they have nothing to offer them. No solution, no words, no help. Sometimes its a lack of courage or character, and sometimes it is just a genuine lack of knowing what to do. I have learned over the years in my own mournful journeys, not to judge them too harshly. Its their failing, not mine.
Sometimes when I venture to write, call, or visit someone who has lost a loved one, I sit in the car, at the computer, with phone in hand, taking deep breaths as if oxygen will some how garner me the emotional strength to take the step forward to the door, dial the number, hit the first keystroke, put pen to paper. Poor Dave will venture in and see me sniffling and wiping my eyes and say, “What’s wrong?” I say, “Oh, a friend of mine’s husband died and I’m writing to her.” I don’t like to talk to Dave about all the people I have come to know and love in our Myeloma Journey who are struggling. I don’t know how ready he is to know these things. He knows enough about our friends we have lost and he still gets upset when he reads about someone accomplished who has died of, yes, “cancer”. When he was first in the throws of his diagnosis we had to turn off the TV and stay away from the news. He felt like cancer was smothering him. He would yell about how everyone seemed to be dying of cancer, every time he turned on the TV or read the newspaper! He felt so vulnerable and angry. What I knew, was he was just noticing. It had become personal for him. It had been personal for me for sometime. He didn’t like it, putting it mildly. Since then, I have kept these things to myself and garnered support from other Myeloma wives who can share in the fear and the loss with me. We are a club – caregivers of not just Myeloma, but cancer or other life threatening illnesses.
Ok, so here is what I wanted to offer, having been through both a sudden death (my father) and a cancer death (my mother)… let me share these stories… what I have learned along the way…
When my father died, it was shocking and devastating. I was 12, almost 13. I had breakfast with him and he dropped me off at school. I was picked up toward the end of the day by his commander and a local minister, my father had recently befriended, and who I knew. Over 30 years later, I learned from the commander that he “didn’t have the guts!” to tell me himself, so he “hunted” down this minister and convinced him to tell me. When the Col told me this, as if he had been waiting all this time to confess it to me, I reached out with a smile and said, “Well it was good that you didn’t, because I made Pastor Olson cry.” When the Pastor said that Dad had been in an accident, I reached out and took his arm and very earnestly said, “Don’t worry, he’ll be will be OK.” The Pastor’s eyes filled with tears as we were standing outside the school door with the principal and secretaries all looking out the window, waiting to see, that I had been told and watching what I did – having that moment burned into their memory forever, witnessing a tragedy unfolding. Imagine a kid, looking around at all the adults – in the car, in the school, in front of me, devastated not just by the loss of their friend, colleague, parishioner, acquaintance, but dealing with how to tell the child of this wonderful man. The realization of what exactly was happening was the beginning… of one of the most profoundly sad events in my life. It was my first real loss, my father, my hero, my teacher, my friend.
It started even before that moment, I would recall later. It started when I was called to the office over the intercom and told to “bring my things” and all the kids making sounds like I was in big trouble, the way kids do. The teacher trying to regain control of the nonsense, and me, red-faced, gathering up my things and wondering why I was being called to the office. Walking down the long hall and turning the corner to another longer hall, heading to the front of the school and seeing way in the distance, the tall principal standing outside his office and watching me as I was walking toward him and noticing the Pastor of our church standing next to him. I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing or what it had to do with me, except that it did have something to do with me. I was only thinking, “how does Mr. U know Pastor Olson?” Even when Mr. U looked mournfully down at me and said, “Lori, we’ll see you soon.” Pastor Olson, reaching to escort me out of the school. The furthest thing in my mind, not even a hint of a reality in my little world, would be what was to come.
And may I just say, Thank you. Thank you to so many adults who so gingerly, thoughtfully and carefully did one of the most difficult things an adult ever has to do – tell a child their parent has died. While it would take years for me to appreciate and understand their courage and character, it did not, and does not, go unnoticed. And many continued to play and active role in my life at different times over the years, for which I’m eternally grateful.