We tend to associate grief with dying. However, there are many levels of loss. Any life changing experience can lead to grief.
My diagnosis with stage III rectal cancer came as a shock. After all, I was only 43 with two young daughters. I wasn’t ready to die. I didn’t know what to do. I had so many questions.
Early on my biggest question was my own mortality. Would I die? (Spoiler alert: No.)
Many callers to our free helpline (877 422 2030) want to know if they will live. Facing death is a big part of a cancer diagnosis.
Facing the reality of death is a big grieving moment. For many people, including me, it takes your faith and makes it more concrete. I had the textbook answer to the age-old question “what happens to me when I die?” Now I had to accept it.
Certainly everyone dealing with death should find a satisfactory answer to that question. We all feel more comfortable knowing the final destination of any journey. No matter if it’s Heaven, Paradise, Nirvana or Atlanta, we all like to know where we are going and how we get there.
I tried to be prepared. I wrote out a funeral service and asked a friend to lead it. I wrote letters to my daughters. I got a will. Being ready honestly helped.
That summer I worked through several questions:
- What is happening? (It can take a while to accept the new reality of a death or a serious diagnosis.)
- Why did this happen to me? (I realized I needed to focus on moving forward.)
- Why did God allow this to happen? (I don’t know. Any God small enough for me to understand completely is too small to be helpful.)
- Why do bad things happen? (A better question is why do good things happen.)
Going through these long dark midnights of the soul is difficult. Answering these questions gave me strength. They allowed me to persevere when the doctor told me I could have a heart attack and die if they didn’t fix my A.fib soon. And when they thought I could bleed out. And when they thought I might have a brain tumor. In times of crisis, you need answers you can trust.
Like many people, I found refuge in religious rituals and practice. I prayed and meditated. I went to the special healing service my church had.
One Helpline caller I've mentioned before, Elizabeth, had me sing a hymn as she died. A chaplain friend of mine sings to the dying all the time.
People find comfort in rituals. There is a reason they’ve been around for hundreds of years. Don’t be afraid to light a candle, say a prayer or meditate. It really does help.
The loss of a close friend or loved one is a serious blow. Grief is a burden you can’t carry alone. Don’t be afraid to talk about it with others. The Colon Cancer Alliance even has a grief chat
you can join.
You need to remember the person. I’ve talked about Paul more in the year since he died than I have in years. That’s the beauty of social media. I can swap memories with friends and even his widow. Talk with friends and family. Write a blog post. Create a Blue Star Tribute
If the person is still alive, don’t be afraid to talk to them. Too often grief makes us pull away and isolate the dying. Don’t know what to say? Read this
Remember there are levels of grief. Some things hit you harder than others. Sometimes just taking a walk with Ranger
is enough to help me emotionally reset. Other times require more. Some things take years to get over. Other things you never get over.
I want to close with a bit of advice from when I was in treatment. Look for the light in the darkness. It may be real dark and the light real dim, but you will find it if you look.
“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” Aristotle Onassis
Crawford Clay was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer 10 years ago when he was 43. Crawford's family has a long history of colon cancer. He and his father were diagnosed with the disease within the same week. Crawford has a B.A. in Psychology and a M.Div. Crawford has a variety of professional experience including being a youth pastor and working in sales and marketing. Currently, he is the Patient Advocacy Coordinator for the Colon Cancer Alliance. Crawford and his wife live in Stafford, Virginia with two teenager daughters and two chocolate labs.