Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pet Peeves...

Believe me, I am no expert when it comes to this grieving thing. Unwanted, uncharted territory is what this is. Since the day that I became a member of the Cancer Club, I have come in contact with many people who have experienced the loss of a loved one. Far too many. But it’s the world I live in now. It’s my world, and at every turn and in every corner, there it is. I cannot escape it. I am learning to live around the hole that resides in my heart. Without falling in. It takes work, and moving through the muck isn’t easy.

I’ve lost my innocence. I see couples with their young children playing together in the park. My mind goes back to the day when I was pushing my babies on that swing. Thoughts of melanoma, the sun, scans and treatments had never entered my mind in those days. Blissful innocence.

I remember having a conversation with my mom when Jillian was first diagnosed with stage IV melanoma. I told her that I didn’t think I could go on if Jillian died. My children have always been my priority, and I was convinced that I just wouldn’t make it if something happened to one of them. And I’ll be completely honest here. There have been days when I could care less if I took another breath. The pain can be so deep, too raw to care. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my other children, I do. But when a child dies, a piece of your heart has been ripped out. That hurts! You are left with a huge hole, a void that is unexplainable unless you’ve gone through the tragedy yourself. I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to disclose those particular feelings except that I recently read an article about some common grief reactions and I know I’m not alone. I haven’t experienced all of these reactions, but I’ve experienced several of them.

Grief reactions following the death of a child are similar to those following other losses, but are often more intense and last longer. Parents commonly experience the following grief reactions:
  • Intense shock, confusion, disbelief, and denial even if the child's death was expected.
  • Overwhelming sadness and despair, such that facing daily tasks or even getting out of bed can seem impossible.
  • Extreme guilt. Some parents will feel they have failed in their role as their child's protector and will dwell on what they could have done differently.
  • Intense anger and feelings of bitterness and unfairness at a life left unfulfilled.
  • Fear or dread of being alone and overprotecting their surviving children.
  • Feelings of resentment toward parents with healthy children.
  • Feeling that life has no meaning and wishing to be released from the pain or to join the deceased child.
  • Questioning or loss of faith or spiritual beliefs. Assumptions about the world and how things should be do not fit with the reality of a child's death.
  • Dreaming about the child or feeling the child's presence nearby.
  • Feeling intense loneliness and isolation, even with other people. Parents often feel that the magnitude of their loss separates them from others and that no one can truly understand how they feel.
I understand that approaching a person who has recently lost a loved one can be difficult. People are afraid. They are concerned they will say the wrong thing. Maybe they are afraid of your tears, and try to avoid the subject.
I was in the grocery store and I bumped into a soccer mom that I hadn't seen in a couple of years. Her daughter played with Jillian years prior, and they had been good friends. I could actually see the discomfort in her face as we approached one another.
Soccer Mom: "Hi! How are you"? 
Me: "I'm doing okay. How are you"?
Soccer mom went on to explain what had been going on in her life and what her children were up to. The white elephant was definitely in the room right then. Oh boy.
Me: "You've heard that Jillian died haven't you"? ( a real conversation stopper)
I could have hugged her right then. I could see the relief in her eyes as the subject of Jillian's death was brought up. We talked and we cried, but we both parted ways feeling a connection, each of us having learned a lesson as we went on to our lives beyond the produce aisle. 
I wanted to write this post in the hopes that it may help to understand what to say and what not to say when you are struggling to help someone through these dark days. I know people have good intentions, and the waters are just as murky for those that haven't experienced this loss. Below is a list of my personal Pet Peeves.
  1. Jillian lost her battle with melanoma cancer. ( NO. She didn't lose. She fought hard, and she won. No one loses their battle with cancer)
  2. At least she is no longer suffering. (As far as I'm concerned, there is no, "At Least")
  3. She is in a better place. (Right. I know that. I want her here with me)
  4. Some day you will move on.( No, I won't. I'll move forward. "Moving on", in my mind means getting over something)
  5. God had a reason for giving Jillian melanoma. ( We live in a broken world. God didn't "give" melanoma to Jillian)
  6. You have my Christian sympathy. (Um..thank-you, but does that make a non-Christian's sympathy any less comforting?)
  7. I look forward to the day when you can learn to accept this. ( I'll NEVER accept this. I will learn to live with it)
  8. Jillian earned her angel wings. (I'm not sure why this bugs me, it just does)
  9. We haven't called because we are trying to be sensitive to your grieving. (Call. I love to talk about Jillian. I'll try and make you more comfortable)

I know many won't have the same things on their list of Pet Peeves, and that's okay. These are just some of mine. I encourage you to add to the list by posting a comment, or sending me a message. I'll update the blog post if I get any response. 
If there is still doubt when you approach that person in the produce aisle, just tell them that you are thinking about them and their loved one. Give a hug. That's all that's needed anyway.



10. She's in a better place now. (Sorry, but I think her place is here with the family and friends that adored her).

11. She was so brave and strong. (Well yeah, but that didn't change the outcome did it?)

12. So you are doing better now that it's been awhile, right" ( No words for this huge blunder)

13. When you walk into a room, and someone sees you and they go,"Awwwww".

14. We didn't want you to feel worse, so we say nothing. ( Saying nothing is almost as bad as saying the wrong thing. Remember, I want to talk about my loved one.)

15,  For my son and his wife the grief of losing their baby during labor has been all consuming. I was talking with someone about how helpless I felt...How I wished I could make it better for them. The reply I received was, "Better that it happened before they got to know her" ( just wow)

16. God never gives you more than you can handle. ( This is false. Bad things happen to good people, again because we live in a broken, sinful world. He does not promise this. His promise is to be with us throughout our trials.)


  1. *hugs* from the cereal isle...Just want to give you some love from the south. I will never claim that I know how you feel; but I hope you know that I do relate in some ways. Much love, Di

    1. Thank you for the hugs!! And thanks for the love and support. It means a lot!

  2. With two children of my own, with having lost children that were dear to me as a pediatric provider for the past 30 years, and a Stage IV melanoma patient myself...I can really feel your pain, but know, that I STILL have no idea. I am sorry. I can't imagine how much you miss Jillian. And for what it's worth...I think your peeves are spot on. I think of you both often. C

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I'm sure you've heard many of the pet peeves along the way. Thank you for thinking of us, it really means so much to me.

  3. We lost our son, age 30, to melanoma last year. And he left behind his wife of four years and 18 month old baby girl. I so admire that you can write about your grief like this. I can barely talk about it.

    1. I'm so sorry, Kelly. The grief can be suffocating. Take care of yourself. Prayers for you and your son's wife, son, and the rest of your family.

  4. Suffocating is an excellent word to describe what one feels when a diagnosis with ensuing battles is encountered and also when the grieving that comes with death makes its unwelcomed presence.
    About God never giving more than we can handle- this has always,always disturbed me. I know many deeply faith filled people who feel this way. But I wonder if it truly just a way to help them handle the fears when something bad happens in their lives.
    Someone I know only casually said that to me when talking about her cancer reoccurrence recently. I didn't acknowledge it by agreeing because it isn't my truth. I smiled and hugged her and said that she is always in my daily prayers.
    Rabbi Kushner's book "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" was an eye opener for me way back when. It was where I turned for help in understanding loss experienced by women who desperately wanted to be Moms but had difficulties maintaining their pregnancies.
    I think i have gotten off track here, but I will say this. I look forward to the time when Sue pens her book, if thatis what she feels called to do. Until then I will learn from her top Ten melanoma blog.
    Ok 1 last thing..moving on is derogatory and insensitive. Maybe we don't choose our words carefully and people do not intend for it to be hurtful,but it is hurtful.

    1. Valerie,
      There is nothing I can add to this, you've said it perfectly. I've added the pet peeve to the list. Thank you, my angel friend. I love you.

  5. Susan- I am so sorry for the loss of your daughter, from reading this blog, I know she was an amazing lady.
    I am so glad I read your post- thank you for writing it. It came at a time when I needed to read it- we lost a co-worker to liver cancer last week.
    I cannot imagine your pain; your writing is beautiful. Thank you for sharing what is on your heart.

  6. Hi Jill,
    Yes, Jillian was beyond amazing. I'm learning how to live, through her courage and grace.

    I'm so sorry to hear about your friend. Cancer just touches so many people. The Ripple Effect.


  7. Dear Commentors:
    Your responses to Susan's Post have been inestimably comforting...thank you for writing! I had the privilege of knowing Jillian from the time she was ten till we shared our last hug and photo. I don't even begin to understand how this remarkable Mother-Daughter Team accomplished all that they did, and Sue continues to do, on behalf of this very precious Melanoma Community. Most of you have never met them in person. Well I can assure you that they are every bit as wonderful as Susan's writing depicts. Jillian never did anything half-measure, and when she loved knew it, felt, gloried in it. Her hugs were tight and long lasting. I can still see her in my mind's eye...the joy that would suffuse her being whenever or wherever we met. Sorry hijacking your blog Dear Sue. It builds...and must find an outlet. The love never, ever diminishes!

    1. Sorry for the typos! My phone has a will of it's own today:(.