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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