Honest Grief

I sat down in the pew at church and I quickly skimmed through the bulletin, because, well… I like to know what I am about to get myself into. This Sunday though, if I am being honest, I almost got up out of my chair to head back to the car. This Sunday the message was on Grief, Loss & Lament.

Lament = a way of expressing our grief, being honest with our loss without letting it define us. This struck me to my core as I sat there reading it. I thought to myself…. the person who came up with this definition has obviously never had cancer, that jerk. Not letting it define us, I read that over and over again, likely a couple hundred times. Not letting it define us. Not letting it define us. NOPE. This one phrase was what almost had me marching out the doors. But like most things in life I don’t always have to agree with them to hear the message. I stuck with it.

Why did this hit me in my core? Because cancer has defined who I am and it has forever changed the way I view myself, the world, and my time. The honesty of cancer is that you get to a place where you grieve your old life. I’m not talking about how you might sit on your couch and cry for 30 minutes or so. I’m talking days and months of grieving your old life. Looking in the mirror and not recognizing this new life. Honest grief where sometimes all you can do is stand still and weep. Mount Everest sized grief.

It’s the honest grief where it’s long past being trendy with your friends to check in on you, offer their support, that moment where you feel siloed. What I am talking about here is when you first go public with a cancer diagnosis there is this flood of help like a tidal wave, then that washes back out to shore because people return to their normal lives and then there you stand, siloed. That’s honest grief.

As I approach my 3 year mark in November from diagnosis, I’m long past the days where people ask me about blood work, scans, or oncologist appointments. Yet, here I am living my best new normal life. You see my life didn’t revert back to my old life… and it never will. I’ve learned how to live in peace with this new normal. I was reminded of this when I walked in Friday evening for a port flush, no one asked me if the port acted up outside of my husband, or if it was routine. The once paralyzing hallway that over the course of 2.5 years now feels peaceful. That hallway has gone through some major renovations over the course of my time there. That hallway now experiences my new normal with me. I wonder if it grieves it’s old life? That’s silly, it’s a hallway. No one else has that thought, but I do, the cancer survivor.

The message was good and I’m glad I gave it a chance. I could all too easily relate to the phases where I cried out, expressed the core of my struggle/pain, declared the truth, and then had to ask for help. Denial and distraction are the standard over-the-counter prescriptions of our culture for dealing with loss. Cancer doesn’t get that standard, we get the – there is no amount of denial and distraction to take away from cancer, mount everest sized grief. We get honest grief.

So that whole, not letting it define us, nope, I’ll never agree with that. And that’s ok. I don’t regret getting the cancer card because it defined and shaped a great deal of my views to live more in the moment and more authentically than I could have ever imagined. It doesn’t mean that cancer doesn’t suck. I’ve learned to live in my new normal. Also, please don’t confuse this with the terrible phrase, everything happens for a reason just because I don’t have regret. That’s a terrible phrase that isn’t true. Bad things happen to great people and there doesn’t have to be some profound reason. We can have honest grief without a reason.

Check in on your friends who are in the heart of their battle, it might be a few months after their public announcement, or maybe their journey is a year old, yet they are still battling. They are standing in honest grief.

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