I have dealt with loss and grief in my life before, losing jobs, friendships ending, the passing of friends and relatives, the most upsetting of these being my mother. I have worked through the process on each occasion, it has been hard and I have needed support at times to get me through, but I have got through. My daughters’ illness was different though, closer to home, more intense, it affected every aspect of my very existence, my beliefs, my values and priorities and it started immediately.
To hear the words ‘your child has cancer’, now there’s a game changer, a smack in the face, a kick in the nuts, a rug puller, however you want to describe it, I guarantee it won’t even touch the sides to how it actually felt and this will be different for every person. In counselling terms this is referred to as Phenomenology, Carl Rogers, the man behind the person centered approach stated that;
No other persons ideas and none of my own ideas are as authoritative as my experience. Each of us will experience things differently than the next person, there may be similarities in the experience but there will also undoubtedly be differences unique to the individual.
I changed that day, possibly at that exact second, things that were once important ceased to be, my world had changed forever. I walked through life like many of us do with blinkers on, unaware of certain horrors, I mean cancer, that’s for old people and smokers right? Wrong!! Here comes the denial bit, the acceptance of what you have just heard, how the F***, what the F***, how can this be real? Wake up dad this is happening and it’s time to dig in for a fight, then the shit just keeps coming, the possibilities of outcomes, holy shit, what do you mean she could die!!
This is where my grief started, I as a person had changed, I was no longer the person I was five minutes ago, life just got real and everything shifted. My priorities, I need to earn more money - not important, my car tax is due - not important, I need a holiday - not important, my kid needs me more than ever - number one priority. Something could take my daughter away from me and all I could do was watch, not the best feeling in the world!
My daughter described me as being ‘Ten feet tall and bullet proof’ little did she know behind the jovial cracks and positive demeanor I was a bowl of quivering jelly at what lay in wait but I would never let on to her. She needed to know I was there for her regardless of the cost to myself.
Having a child with a life threatening illness was for me, at that time, the biggest head mess I had ever encountered. The loss of my mom was devastating, my divorce was a crippler but this was bigger and potentially more horrific than anything I had ever encountered before. Besides all the medical issues, my daughter changed as a person, she was a warrior; she took everything on, head on and I watched in ore and with pride at this amazing young woman as she dealt with everything that she had thrown at her, the little girl I once knew had changed. My son became a worried little boy, not his usual happy self and the time I spent with him reduced due to time spent at the hospital and caring for his sister, our relationship was under threat. Work was inconvenient, it was not a concern, I’d always prided myself on being the best I could be at what I did but now it was meaningless and of no relevance. Friendships, funny how they go to rat shit, maybe because of the time to maintain them, maybe because people don’t know what the hell to say to you but they change, other people come in to your world for the wrong reasons at the right time but one thing is for sure, for me, this definitely changed. All these things were a loss and I needed to deal with how this affected me emotionally, some were short lived but others took a lot of reconciling and a lot of self-reflection.
This is my grief, the start of my loss, on top of the subsequent loss of my daughter 20 months further down the line there is also what I have just spoken about, all be it in a shorter more condensed format and considerably deeper than is reasonably practicable to say here. The point I am trying to make is that there is more to a person’s grief than one event, there may be a multitude of losses covering many aspects, all wrapped up in one grief, what looks like one single event may only be the tip of the ice burg.
This is a small piece of what I have learnt on my journey, an awareness that nothing is one dimensional when it comes to another’s issues, feelings and emotions, grief affects every aspect of the person, their physical, mental and emotional well being, their religious and spiritual beliefs. If I could impart one piece of wisdom on the world it would be this;
Always be mindful and respectful to your fellow man, never assume, let them tell their story, for only then can we truly understand what it means to them, to walk beside them, to walk in their shoes, to be truly empathic.