REthinking Grief

So many pieces of treating cancer are changing.

When the ‘War on Cancer’ was declared so many years ago, medicine really wasn’t ready for the battle.  War means battle and battle means weapons and there were hardly any weapons to fight the disease.  Chemotherapy might have sounded like a big, bad treatment that would cause cancer cells to fall dead in their tracks, but early on, it really wasn’t specific to any one cancer and really didn’t do the job.  It was toxic and dangerous and even to this day, leaves us asking our doctors, “What else have you got?”

Thankfully medicine does offer better choices now in cancer world: research has expanded treatment options and clinical trials provide great results for others.

What about those of us who lost our loved ones to cancer?  Has medicine learned new ways to treat those grieving the loss?  I know when Leroy died, my grief was overwhelming.  Friends, family and even professionals told me there would be grieving  steps to go through and I would manage those steps just like so many others before me.

NOT exactly.

Treating grief, just like treating pain in cancer world has been lost between the pages of the patient’s medical file.  Both are just as important as treating the cancer itself.

Patrick O’Malley, a psychotherapist in Fort Worth, Texas wrote about “Getting Grief Right” in the ‘New York Times’ last Sunday.  He basically says surrender to it.  It’s the only way to begin to heal.

O’Malley doesn’t abide by the standard stages of grief, but instead see’s three chapters of loss.  “Chapter 1 has to do with attachment: the strength of the bond with the person who has been lost.” He says “the size of their grief corresponds to the depth of their love.”

“Chapter 2 is the death event itself: This is often the moment when the person experiencing the loss begins to question his/her sanity, particularly when the death is premature and traumatic.”

“Chapter 3 is the long road that begins after the last casserole dish is picked up–when the outside world stops grieving with you.”

The last chapter is the hardest to face.

But,  it’s the time to realize there is no time table for grief.

So along with the new face of cancer treatment should come a new way to counsel those left behind to mourn.  They become ‘patients of grief’ and they need to know it’s OK to feel that way for as long as it takes to heal.  It’s time to RE-think what it means to grieve.


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Al January 16, 2015 at 7:59 am

I’m just an old man grieving! I don’t know about the Steps, perhaps a Process or even Stages. I just know that grief is REAL. A psychologist or psychiatrist can talk to me until my grief wears them out and doesn’t get any better. I guess it is part of the human condition to categorize or assign some steps or stages to my feelings but it doesn’t lessen my pain, sadness or loss. Why not just let me mourn and grieve until I stop if I ever stop. Grief is mine. It is only mine. It is not my kids or my grandkids’ grief. They have their own way to grieve.

After Christmas, I went to visit my wife’s grave. She is buried in our family’s plot about 4 hours from me. I know every minute of everyday that she is gone. But to see her slab caused a major meltdown. My conversation to her, as I had planned, was not possible. My grief was acute. Later, I returned and was able to say what I had planned mixed with lots of tears.

My grief is not debilitating to me. I do and I live as best I can. I am surrounded by family and lifelong friends. All grieve in their own way and will do so until it comes to an end. If my grief never ends, it is OK with me. I’ll “not get over it” and move on. I’ll never forget nor do I want to.

No Steps, Process or Stages for me. My grief is mine and mine only.


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