Grief

“I measure every Grief I meet
With analytic eyes;
I wonder if It weighs like mine,
Or has an easier size.
I wonder if they bore it long,
Or did it just begin?
I could not tell the date of mine
It feels so old a pain.

I wonder if it hurts to live,
And if they have to try,
And whether, could they choose between,
They would not rather die.

I wonder if when years have piled —
Some thousands — on the cause
Of early hurt, if such a lapse
Could give them any pause

I’ve loved Emily Dickinson’s poetry for a long time. I remember vividly reading many for the first time and her words resonate with me in so many ways. I often wonder how she is able to poignantly articulate emotions that echo through time despite her own circumstances. My literature classes in college were a constant delight and I miss that sometimes. Not enough to reenroll …

But that’s not what I sat down to write about today.

As the title and the poem reference, grief is on my mind. I’m grieving so much and it’s hard, many days, to know what to do with it. My grief ebbs and flows, peaking with astonishing intensity at some of the most inconvenient times. The terms “walking wounded” or, to appropriate a phrase from Dexter, “a dark passenger,” sometimes come close to a label, but most of the time, this wild eviscerating grief defies logic.

Grief paralyzes and galvanizes. Sometimes in equal measure. Sometimes at the same time. This tug of war wreaks havoc on my emotions on good days. On bad days, I can be crying one minute and sarcastically combative the next. More of the latter than the former, if I’m being honest.

Grief is now my ever present companion, set off by the strangest things. Mundane details … a sock with no mate, a broken toy, my kids inability to hear the word no, trying to cram all of the things I want to tell my boys into a short time period, cataloging my possessions and making sure that my family is prepared to handle the details of my death, celebrating a milestone.

I grieve for the parts of my boys’ lives I will miss. I grieve the same, in perhaps a slightly smaller measure, about my siblings, my nieces, my nephews, my parents, friends, extended family. We are all doing this cancer thing together in one form or another. I grieve the loss of time with my sweet husband and how much our marriage has been affected by my illness. He didn’t know I would be so sick after only 10 years of marriage and how could I be a partner in the same way now? I look back and I wonder, would it have been better to not have hitched my life to his?

I grieve the loss of function, the ease of movement, the loss of a future with possibilities, the loss of purpose and what I had worked towards for decades. I grieve the loss of energy, the impact of pain, the side effucks of medication, the constant appointments and wasted time in the doctor’s offices. I grieve having to advocate for myself to the point of swearing and tears, not the norm for me.

I grieve having to plead with doctors, insurance companies, drug companies, legislators, donors, administrators, random minimum wage employees … I am weary of having to justify my existence, of begging strangers to save my life, to treat me like a person, not a number or a paycheck or an inconvenience. I grieve that my life literally sometimes just boils down to dealing with cancer. I am so much more than this. I want to shake my fist at people sometimes, to proclaim at the top of my lungs … I AM A PERSON NOT A STATISTIC. It wouldn’t help. Tears are a better motivator and yet, sometimes I have no more tears to cry. I am wrung out, drained dry.

I grieve the loss of friendship and uncomplicated days. I grieve being able to focus on and talk about anything but cancer. I grieve the loss of innocence and feeling comfortable in my skin. I grieve the loss of the feelings of being attractive, confident, and whole, of trusting my body to function as it should. It is an oddly sharp feeling of betrayal, that this body I used to know so well has dealt me.

These losses are mostly internal, mostly inside my close circle, silent until I write or talk about them. These losses smack me in the face and I can’t breathe for a bit. I’ve gotten better about looking at this grief, embracing it, sometimes wallowing, and then picking up my head and carrying it forward.

Grief does not end. Time does not heal this wound. This grief, in all it complexities and layers, will be my burden to carry until I die.

I wonder, am I strong enough to carry all of this? That’s one of the most often repeated comments to me … “you are so strong.” I think it is meant well. I try to take it as it is meant. I know that I’ve done well in showing a brave face to the world, but that’s not the whole truth of my experience. I’m a product of my Midwest upbringing–my stoicism in the face of tragedy learned honestly. I am good at this, focusing on the logical details in public, never breaking down until I am alone.

The losses and the grief from the losses of friends living with the stage IV are somehow different from these personal losses. Heavier. Bone crushing, at times. I don’t feel equipped to carry it. I don’t want to carry it. I feel flattened emotionally with each new post that we’ve lost another friend. Knowing that hospice is near for a friend doesn’t help much but we’ve also had unexpected losses. I don’t know which is worse, having time to prepare or not.

Grieving for people, some of whom I’ve never met, who are more online friends than in real life is weird. There is a kinship unlike any other I’ve found, but usually we only know one part of the people we connect with. It may be even more weird, but I’ve started friending the husbands, wives or key family members of the women I meet online. At least that way I’ll have some connection to information after the friend is unable to post on her own and many people choose to close their pages when a family member has died. I go to look for them, to check on them, and there is no trace.

No trace. The stark reality of a person no longer living is highlighted in the removal of readily accessible information about that person.

I know, intellectually, that part of the reason it is so easy to bond with and so hard to lose friends who are metastatic is that I see myself in them. I see my own struggles as each one comes to terms with the reality of dying. In a way, as I grieve each person who has died, I am also grieving for myself, for my family and the people who know me. I will be one of the faces on the collages we share to remind everyone of who and what we’ve lost some day. It will be my social media profiles that will disappear some day. It will be my friends who will look for me and find no trace.

Until that time, I am carrying this grief. I am doing my best to enter into it, to get to know it, to talk about it. We don’t talk enough about death in this country. We don’t prepare for it well. Rather than avoiding it, I am doing battle with it, every day. Grief will never leave us because it is the consequence of love and vulnerability. To love, deeply and completely and unreservedly means to not protect ourselves, to withhold nothing of ourselves, to jump without a parachute into intimacy with another person.

And so, today, despite the fact that my heart is broken into so many pieces and I nearly cannot see a way through, I will do my best to continue to open my heart, to be vulnerable and to remember the laughter amidst the tears for those we’ve lost way too soon.

29 thoughts on “Grief

  1. I thought I would have some words for you but they wouldn’t be right coming from me because I’m not going through what you are. I do know about grieving and having a broken heart. I wrote about kind of the same topic today. I can offer you my ear and support. That’s not alot but it’s something I think. I could tell you my story of my best friend with cancer but I don’t think that would help. But my ex boyfriend’s mother had cancer and she’s alive and well now. Not the same kind but still. I will remain positive for you and keep you in my prayers. These kind of stories are always dear to my heart ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I try, with my posts, to not only work through my own emotions, but also to shine a light on how hard it really is to live with a terminal diagnosis when everyone around you is also dealing with it. The one thing that I ask everyone to do for me is not to buy pink fluffy stuff for October. If you have funds you would normally use for walks or runs or pink paraphernalia, send them to Metavivor. Metavivor.org. Love and light to you!

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  2. What you have said echoes many of the emotions that I have struggled with and blogged about personally. I am going in for scans today and am fearful of bad news. I don’t have as many chemo options and am running through the ones I have much quicker than I imagined. This is hard. There are no other words to say.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are right. This is HARD. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve, to continue to put one foot in front of the other. Scanxiety is a legal of anxiety that I’d never felt before cancer. Love and light to you. 😘❤️

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  3. I wish I could put this post on a billboard over my head when anyone asks me how I’m doing on those dark days. So beautifully and tragically written. I hear in my head all those “uplifting” canned expressions that countless have said to me making me feel guilty for feeling depressed. Again, thank you for being another voice in a sea of despair. To know there is even one person out there feeling these same feelings makes this journey more bearable. No fluffy pink crap from me! We are more than a color or a “movement”. Sending you love.

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  4. Always speechless by your thoughts and writing Abby but forever moved and full of love, light, energy all to you, your beautiful boys and your husband. Bless you always. Dori

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awwww, thank you Dori! I appreciate you reading and commenting my ramblings. Writing is so cathartic for me. I’m so glad it resonated with you. Grief really is one of those universal human experience topics. We are all grieving something or someone. I’m just in an intense season of grief. Love and light to You! 😘❤️

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  5. Hi Abigail,

    Breast cancer is a string of losses, and that string just keeps getting longer. Grief is exhausting. Grief is harsh. Grief is damn hard on a person in so many ways. And grief is forever. Thankfully, so is love.

    Thank you for writing about a topic people tend to avoid. I’m sorry you are so familiar with it. xx

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I was very moved by all you said. In fact, as you know, I am almost never at a loss for words (often to my detriment) but I just cannot find ones that are adequate to convey how touched I was by your post. It has oddly been a week filled with that sensation, much to my sorrow.

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    1. I’m so glad it resonated with you. I’ve been carrying all this grief for a while and all the deaths in #CancerLand just made it boil over. Really, you were just reading my verbal vomit. How’s that for some imagery! I respect your opinion so much and appreciate your encouragement. Love and light to you!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you, Abigail, for your vulnerability and honesty. The world, all of us in it, needs more of that right now. My heart aches with you. Grief is a strange beast that keeps irregular hours, and for those of us living and thriving with METS it shows up often. Sending hope, light, and good energy your way. Peace.

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  8. Good morning Abigail… These words, these emotions that you have so honestly and willingly shared with us, show us a profound reality that few are able to share. I have deeply felt every single word of them as they now linger within me. There are few who are able to express their emotions as beautifully as you have done. I’ve very much enjoyed wandering your pages this morning, along with my first cup of coffee. I wanted to thank you so very much for having the courage to share your reality… your truth with so many of us who must face every morning the realities of some of life’s most unpleasant experiences.
    I’ll be lingering in your pages and wishing you a most beautiful day…
    Michael33
    https://visionofhope33.wordpress.com

    Liked by 1 person

  9. To say it’s powerful, Abigail, seems to mean nothing here; touching, wrenching, beautiful, stirring….

    “ I look back and I wonder, would it have been better to not have hitched my life to his?” – no. But I see you’ve answered that w/love, as always, anyway ❤️

    Dickinson, in the little I’ve read of her (though not by her), remained brilliantly expressive in her unknownness. That’’s always given me solace along w/her words. A sort of isolated bravery though of course that’s just one facet of her diamond. Like you 😊

    I want to reblog this, Abigail. Can I use the photo in your post in the short reblog intro? It really helps folks focus on what the reblog’s about. And I think folks want to know what you are about…..

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