Living with Loss

As I sat down to write today about what has been weighing heavily on my heart, I went back through previous posts (as I usually do) to see what/if I’ve written on the topic previously. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that this is a topic I’ve written about quite a bit since my diagnosis with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) in 2017.

I’ve never been part of a community before where so many die on a daily basis.

Some of those people who have died have been dearer friends to me than those I’ve known for decades. It’s hard to explain how meaningful these connections are with people I’ve often never met in real life. When an initial conversation with a person you’ve never met covers living and death and everything in between, the intensity breeds intimacy on a level I’ve rarely experienced.

A dear friend also living with MBC was recently hospitalized and, as it often is with us in this community, the reason was pretty serious. As with so many I know, her circumstances have a lot of similarity to mine. And it’s impossible not to be significantly affected in a situation like this. The night she told me, I told my husband that I was afraid to go to sleep. I was so afraid that I’d miss an important or possibly, last text. I was so afraid that I would wake up to the worst news, that she’d died overnight.

Now I do realize intellectually that me staying awake had and has nothing to do with my friend’s health or anyone else’s, but I think it’s a good example of what we carry for and on behalf of each other. My friend is home now and while some of her symptoms still remain a bit of a mystery, there is some sort of a plan to address them.

As I mused over this situation and my own reaction to it, I was reminded of a poem that Anya Silver wrote, which I have included below. It usually takes a person immersed in this living while dying thing to articulate clearly how it often feels. I was privileged to read her poetry in the play, IV Our Lives, which I’ve written about before.

The part that is handwritten on the bottom is the last portion of the poem that wraps over to the next page. I’d written it there because I was reading it in a taping of the play and didn’t want to flip the page.

The last few lines of the poem resonates so deeply with me. There is an instantaneous understanding amongst us in the community as we see others fade from this life. Every loss hurts like the dickens and I am moved to tears on a regular basis; at the same time, we have to get pretty good at carrying these losses if we want to continue to engage with our community.

Is that even something we can get good at?

Kelly Grosklegs, a grief therapist who is the beauty and brains behind “Conversations with Kelly,” which you all should be following on social media, shared with a group I was in recently that she looks for reminders each day that this life is not the end. In that group, we talked about an experience that someone else had where she listened to the nudging of her intuition or perhaps it was the soul of a dear friend who recently died. Regardless, those moments of connection, of beauty, of love and soul healing in the midst of loss are beyond price.

And I hope I can pay attention to that even more.

I will end with a quote from a book I’ve been reading, the Edge of Wonder, by Victoria Erickson who I think I could be best friends with if we only met in real life instead of me just following her on social media and loving everything she shares.

Despite our hearts having been shattered over and over, we send our open hearts into the world over and over, to mend with love those who are carrying the same losses that bring us to our knees, coughing.

21 thoughts on “Living with Loss

  1. Abigail, everything you writes resonates with me. I was diagnosed de novo in January 2020 and so far 4 of the people who were in my SW FL mets group when I first joined, have died. I am a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in grief, loss and trauma, so I am no stranger to tragedy. But these losses are so close to home. I am currently stable ( at least until I have my next set of scans in October, we live from scan to scan, it seems). I find myself feeling guilty for doing so well when they suffered so much, and fearful that their path will someday be mine. I find myself pulling back from connections in the MBC community so I can pretend I’m fine and healthy. But I am realizing more than ever how important it is to be connected with others who are the only ones who truly understand what life with MBC is really about. I find your blog posts so meaningful and appreciate the poetry you shared.

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    1. Thank you, Heather. I hear you about the balance of engaging versus non in the MBC community. I have struggled with that since I was diagnosed in 2017 and in some ways it’s both harder and easier. The level of grief, I’ve found, is commensurate with the level of connection/love we have with those we’ve lost. While it’s worth it, the pain is so real. Sending you love and light. ❤️

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  2. Such meaningful words to get us all through another day.❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

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  3. I too have stage IV MBC diagnosed June 2nd 1921. We must remember it’s not a death sentence and keep fighting. I’ve read only about 30% will die within 5 yrs so that means 70% live. You
    MUST join the human race and not think of it constantly
    Or it will depress you mightily. I continue getting target drugs and follow Drs advice. We must stand together for a cure and keep fighting.

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    1. I appreciate your perspective; at the same time, you have some of those statistics backwards. It’s only approximately 28% of those of us with MBC who will live for 5 years. Yes, I’ve lived that long and I’m keenly aware of how amazing that is. Losing friends every day causes me to have to face my own mortality and the fact that MBC is actually a death sentence, it’s only a matter of time until the cancer cells will outsmart what we have to deal with them. Given that, I have found ways to be much more present now with my family, my friends and those who are in my life. Shouldering the losses in the MBC Community is something that is excruciatingly hard and is something that I don’t want to ignore or just not think about, despite how difficult it is. They matter, you matter, I matter, and that is a legacy of love and connection I want to leave behind.

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  4. Hi Abigail,
    The losses continue, that’s for sure. I remember the very first online loss I experienced after starting my blog, and that was nearly 12 years ago. Each loss circles me back to remember the others. And, of course, each loss takes me back to that first stinging loss – my mother. Your post reminds me of a post in particular that I wrote asking, how many times can our hearts break? I’ll have to dust that one off and reshare. Thank you for your beautiful words and for caring so much. And thank you for sharing the poem and quote too. x

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    1. I’m so sorry that losses in the cancer community remind you of that oh so important loss of your mom. That has to be so triggering. Thankful for you and so many others who continue to put themselves “out there” to share the stories and memories of people who are gone. It helps so much to know the we are part of a community together that will remember us too. 🙂

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  5. The poem by Victoria Erickson is beautiful. Thank you for sharing it, and your journey. My community is different, but it’s also one in which most of my fellow travellers have died. It’s always hard, but I still also find it worth it. I’m finding your posts especially relevant these days, since my mother’s stage four lung cancer diagnosis. They also bring me hope.

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