Cancer is a six-letter word that will forever alter your way of living when it becomes introduced into your daily vocabulary. Up until my Mom was diagnosed, I never understood even the most superficial explanations of the disease. Sure, cancer was horrible, I thought, but there’s no way it will happen to my family.
Cancer leaves you with a lot of deep and multi-layered questions that often don’t have answers. You will find yourself Googling it until your head begins to throb and your eyes cross. Before you reach the acceptance phase, you first examine past events in order to find a link with the cancer. After numerous flashbacks you finally reach the conclusion that the cancer is in no way justifiable and that your mom’s cancer was not retribution for any partying done in college.
Cancer is a long, arduous, and strenuous battle. Some fight relentlessly and emerge victorious. Others are not so lucky. I found myself saying goodbye to my Mom in May 2014.
It’s difficult to assist someone who had lost such a paramount part of his or her life. However, the difficulty of death is also accompanied by condolences and, what people personally think, is pivotal advice to follow. Don’t get me wrong; many people were Godsends who enveloped my Dad and I in unconditional and pure love. However, there will sometimes be advice and opinions that you just DO NOT have time for.
1. “The first year is the hardest.”
I understand milestones will be difficult to face. First Christmas. First Birthdays. First Family Trip without them. It’ll be unnerving to face the reality of an empty seat on a holiday, but what about the second year? Third year? Every passing year is accompanied with the harsh reality of the fact that I will never smell my mom’s hair as she leans over me to kiss my cheek and wish me a Merry Christmas. Yes, first years are difficult, I agree. However, there will always be a first of something that isn’t recognized until it’s viewed in hindsight. What will happen when I have my first Christmas with my husband and kids and grandma isn’t there to celebrate? There will never stop being firsts.
2. “Cancer is no longer in your life.”
Yes, cancer is no longer in my life but guess what? Neither is my mom. What kind of a trade off is that? Even though it was unnecessary to have the cancer is our lives, my mom, dad, and I still learned how to tolerate it. Despite unending doctor’s appointments, MRI’s, blood tests, clinical trials, and chemo, we still got to feel her touch at the end of the day. My dad still got to kiss her goodnight and I still got to bury my face in her neck whenever we would hug for a particularly long time. If having cancer as part of my life meant I could still have my mom, then I want the cancer back, please.
3. “My Mom/Dad/Sister/Grandmother had cancer and survived. It’s a blessing from God.”
First of all, I am ESCTATIC that your Mom/Dad/Sister/Grandmother survived their cancer. Really, it’s always so nice to hear that someone’s treatment regiment wasn’t in vain. However, do NOT tell me directly that it was a blessing from God. During my mom’s cancer battle, I had never seen anyone so deeply rooted in their faith than my mom and dad. Their disciplined schedule of morning and afternoon prayers moved me to tears and felt like a stab in the heart when she passed. By telling me that your survival story is a blessing from God, my assumption is that my Mom was NOT blessed by God because she wasn’t granted another chance at life.
4. “Think of all the happy times/memories…”
While I have enough happy memories with my mom to fill up a library, that’s exactly what they will always be: memories. Memories of my late Mom are “have beens” that will never become “will bes.” Never again will I have two text messages and three missed calls on my phone asking me how my test went. Never again will I be able to call her multiple times a day just to see how she’s doing. While memories will forever hold a special place in my heart, there will always be a sting that the memories with her are simply a past chapter in my life that can never be recreated.
5. “You need to look towards your future.”
How am I supposed to look towards my future when my future included her? With her gone, my future has become bleak. All of my advice and life lessons came from her. My future included wedding planning with her, preparing for the arrival of my future kid(s), picking out home decorations for my first house, traveling as an extended family to exotic vacation spots. Looking towards the future when 20 years of planning was shattered in a matter of weeks is emotionally taxing. Honestly for now, the future can wait. It’ll still be there; my mom won’t.
6. “It’ll all pass.”
A family friend told this to me a few weeks after my mom’s death and I was left wondering for days. What will pass? My mom is gone and she’s never coming back. The feelings of sadness and longing will forever remain in me for the rest of my days. Any time something joyful, sad, or confusing happens, she won’t be there to celebrate, console, or clear up anything that may be causing stress. The only thing that will pass is time, which will give me the ability to cope in a more stable way than in the months after her death.
7.“I don’t know how you do it, I would be a wreck if my mom died.”
I don’t know how I do it either. Your biggest nightmare is my raw reality. If you want to see for yourself what it could be like then ignore your mom’s calls for a few days. Don’t talk to her. Don’t message her. Don’t ask for advice. Rely on yourself for direction she could only give you. Are you breaking down yet? Welcome to my reality.
Just because someone isn’t dealing with cancer doesn’t mean some other life event isn’t tearing them apart. I’m doing my best to realize that my reality is only experienced by a handful of people. Coping and carrying my grief are my biggest life obstacles. The best thing you can do for someone who has lost their anyone is to let them know that they are immensely loved. That’s what you should do, and that’s what you should say.