The one thing I know about grief is you never know when the tsunami will wash over you, making it hard to breathe and find solid ground. There can be these serene, still waters around you and then bam! An unexpected wave hits and you are completely disoriented. I have this box in which I have been tossing all of my medical and financial records connected to the cancer adventure. I had to pull it out last night and sort through it because I need to fill out some forms. I decided to organize it better than I had so I could find things quickly that I need.
I made a tactical error along the way though. I did not ask for all my reports over these past two years but I did ask for some related to the embolization and resection. I started reading them as I sorted. I could feel anxiety rising which seemed odd to me. I stopped for a moment, wondering what was going on for me. My body went through trauma for 13 months. I remember that I began to lose my hair in handfuls after surgery but before I began chemo. I asked my family doctor if my body was finally reacting to the stress it had been through. Running her fingers through my hair, she saw that the hair loss was abnormal and concurred that I was most probably right. This phenomena only lasted a few weeks–no one else noticed but me. I tried hard to love my body back into a safe space, praising it for how well it had done. I talked about it with my counselor, thinking I was working my way through it. Reading the reports reminded me of all that I have been through physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. In many ways, I have never really fully processed all the distress I went through. One hurdle after another needed to be jumped through and I just kept my eyes on the finish line which kept being extended. Take these tests, inject this radioactive sugar into your body, feed the vampires in the lab, rule out another primary source of cancer, walk that chart of mine stamped urgent down the hall, try to understand the medical jargon, advocate strongly for myself, undergo this procedure that is still fairly new, be gracious to each medical team member, make final arrangements in case I do not survive surgery or die shortly thereafter, recover from surgery, figure out if those narcotics are more harmful than helpful, get used to this new body I have with the fancy zigzag scar, learn to trust yet another doctor to make proper decisions, start chemo, keep moving even when I feel like crap, be grateful, be positive, learn the cancer is back and has metastasized, live with the fact you may only have a year left, go on disability, make huge financial decisions that are not my forte, strip away each of my identities one by one until I am sure only that I am a child of God, make the unorthodox decision to stop chemo and give my poor body a break, choose to live until I die, and if this sentence is exhausting you, then you may understand why I began to cry last night.
As I filed away paper after paper of my disease, the reality of what I have done these past two years was overwhelming. This was no pity party. I saw in some ways for the first time what I had survived. I thought I had known the enormity of it, but really I was just paddling like mad to keep my head above the water all this time. I was making mental check marks on a list of completed tasks but I never essentially stopped to go over the entire list in one sitting. This was me finally saying, Holy Mary Mother of God, look at what I went through! As the disease begins to progress now, I know that I must gear up for these next stages. I have given my mind, body, and spirit the recreation they have needed. I have trusted in God through it all and I will continue to trust. Your prayers and love have carried me through too. I have seen God in it all. I feel the cloak of Christ and the mantle of Mary wrapped around me. I took a big breath and continued sorting the box.
I smiled when I saw it–the purple notebook that my brother gave me labelled Things That Make Me Happy. I had used it as a guest book of sorts. Originally, I had imagined I would be sleeping quite a bit and wanted to track guests who came and went if that was the case. The big surprise was that I did not nap as much as expected. People wrote encouraging words in it at my direct request. I reached for it with a smile. I opened it and read the entries on the first page, feeling blessed once again by the sentiments expressed there. I turned to page two and there was Dad’s signature at the top, followed by one word–a name he used when he left me telephone messages: Pa. Two simple letters dissolved me into tears again.
Having taught many seminars on grief over the years, I know the importance of letting the pain out. Holding it in does no good. As much as I know I will see Dad in the twinkling of an eye in earthly terms, I still miss him greatly. I have let myself weep only about a dozen times as we near the three-month mark of his death. I did not try to stop the emotion or reign it in. I wept for my many losses these past two and a half years, knowing full well that Monday will be the 25th anniversary of my sister’s death. Grief triggers all loss and I have always said that my body remembers things that I may not until I take the time to explore my emotions.
Last night was emotional but I am grateful for the insights. I know that I am a strong, independent woman who can muster up courage when needed but I am also vulnerable and trusting. I will not give in to despair and I will let the tears come in order to heal. They are a gift. God has been more than merciful to me and has not left me orphaned. On the contrary, God has surrounded me with love and support beyond my imaginings. When grief erupts, I can appreciate the release of emotions that allow me to be freer and continue the adventure unhindered. What a blessing!
When has grief unexpectedly erupted for you?
What lessons has sorrow taught you?
Who knew I had so much hidden inside that needed to be washed to the surface? Who could comprehend that even though I thought I was paying attention that I was not completely understanding what was occurring? Who but you, Holy One? May you accompany me through it all and wash me clean when the time is right. Amen.