By Amy Kalman, RN
Cindy (my cancer surviving friend I’ve told you about) lost her husband (and my longtime friend) Max to glioblastoma, a malignant brain cancer. My fondest childhood memories of Max involve computers and antennas and communication with techies far from home via ham radio. The world lost Max after a sustained period of treatment during which he suffered seizures, required assisted mobility, and lost the ability to speak.
So many people survive and beat cancer diagnosis and treatment on a daily basis, but the fact remains that some of our loved ones will die before successful treatment is found. Friends and family must cope with an enormous loss once those lives end. Cindy asked me to tell you (after reading the blog about her) that there is a difference between losing a chosen best friend and soul mate versus other relationship losses — like a parent or, even more difficult, a child.
She explains: “losing your spouse is like accidentally cutting yourself with a really sharp knife while cooking…it happens so quickly you don’t realize it until you’re bleeding. It keeps bleeding, so you get stitches. And then the stitches come out. And then a scab forms. And pieces of the scab fall off. And you bleed and re-scab. The wound finally heals into a scar. As time passes, it doesn’t hurt like it used to, but it’s a constant reminder of the accident. The physical pain goes away and you don’t remember it as badly as when it happened.”
Cindy then told me a story about one time she was playing mahjong (a Chinese game using dozens of tiles that my mother plays and I’ll never understand) with a few friends. Two women playing had also lost their husbands to cancer. The host begins to tell everyone the story of a woman she knew whose husband had recently died. Organizing their beautifully colored, shiny, noisy tiles, the two women were whispering and laughing. The host wanted to know what was so funny. They turned to her and said “now she’s in the DHC too!” referring to their tongue-in-cheek name for those who have lost spouses.
The story left me speechless. Cindy saw my facial expression and reassured me: the bad memories sink, and the good memories rise to the surface, blurring your vision from the pain of history. It’s important to allow yourself time to feel and experience grief. Because with loss of loved ones comes strength in healing. Enough even to joke. But she’ll also tell you, she’d give anything to have her husband back, instead of just the memories.