Living, Loving, and Losing

Life is filled with hurdles but few as heartbreaking or life altering as the death of someone we love. Coming to terms with death is rarely an easy or timely process, and grief can be overwhelming. In an attempt to escape the heartache of loss, I sought solace in my work as a novelist, and some of my greatest literary motivation emerged out of the depths of sorrow. Lost in a dark cloud of despair, I cranked out a 600 page science fiction novel in less than three months, projecting my misery onto the protagonist. For anyone wrought with emotional turmoil, writing can be liberating but by no means the only outlet. And while agony may influence or inspire creativity, it’s not something I’d wish upon anyone. Yet loss is a component of life that haunts us all and we cannot escape it, so we must find ways to live with it.

For more years than I can recall, my mother fought cancer with good humor and a brave spirit, winning several battles but not the war. She fought ovarian cancer, colon cancer, and pancreatic cancer, keeping death at bay for longer than she imagined possible. But her battle with peritoneal cancer was one fight she would not win, and it claimed her in only three short months. I grieved her loss deeply for more than two years (and grieve it still) but eventually acquired some level of peace, at least enough that the bite of bereavement no longer had any real teeth. In arrogance I believed I’d come to terms with death, and then received a rude awakening when tragedy struck again.

My husband and I never had children, so a chocolate and white Border Collie mix we named Chelsea became our little one. An impressively intelligent and comical puppy, she stole our hearts along with tidbits from our dinner table. In return, our miniature almost person provided endless hours of joy and unconditional love. Filled with energetic spunk and sass uniquely her own, she imposed her vibrant personality upon us, wiggling and wagging her way into every aspect of our lives. But in the blink of an eye, thirteen years had passed and we learned all too late that Chelsea, like my mother, had inoperable cancer. With heavy hearts my husband and I said farewell to our brave pup, and were left with an empty home and another void in our lives.

As if that had not been enough, tragedy struck several more times in rapid fire. My brother’s best friend, and one of the gentlest souls I’ve ever known, passed away during a lengthy and grueling surgery. The tragedy left those who loved him devastated. On the heels of one misfortune followed another when my mother’s best friend lost her husband to cancer. It was a hammer blow and a loss she will struggle with for some time to come. Not long after, my sister-in-law’s brother suffered a fatal heart attack, leaving her agonizing in pained disbelief as well. To add insult to injury, and making this year one of the most difficult to endure, my friend and mentor, author Diane Marcou, also passed away unexpectedly. I’d spoken with Diane one day prior and she’d been full of life and spirit. Overnight she was gone, taken from family, friends, and a writing community that adored her, leaving us all stunned and grieving.

Loss such as this is a wake-up call that makes us come face to face with our own mortality, not always a pleasant experience. But it also makes us realize loss of life, no matter how seemingly immense or insignificant, is never trivial but it is painful. And recovering from it can be a lengthy, harrowing event, causing unexpected and unforeseen reactions (sometimes triggering breakdowns and mid-life crisis). Bereavement is not a matter to be taken lightly, rushed, or brushed aside dismissively. So, it’s important to remember—something I’ve heard and read repeatedly, and is true—Do not feel ashamed by what you feel or how long you feel it.

The best advice my husband and I received, believe it or not, came in the form of a small booklet provided by Pet Angel when we picked up Chelsea’s ashes. The pamphlet although simplistic and intended for pet owners was remarkably comforting. It helped us understand the significance of mourning, as well as cope with the grieving process. I only wish social workers and doctors had provided similar guidance when my mother passed away.

For anyone faced with overwhelming pain, it’s vital to find a positive means of dealing with the anguish, and if writing doesn’t work as an outlet there are plenty of other resources to draw upon. Support groups of friends and family can be effective, but comfort and guidance can also materialize from a variety of other sources: medical experts, spiritual authorities, reputable therapists, reading material, hobbies and interests to name but a few.

Sadly, death is a part of life, but no matter how desperate and painful the days become, it’s imperative to live, love, and move forward, embracing anything that makes us whole again. That said, it isn’t always easy to know which way to turn. For that reason I have provided a small sampling of resources (below) that may be useful in times of grief and stress, and hope they may assist others as they have me.

Web Sources:

Reading Material:
The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook, by Martha Davis, Ph.D, Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, MSW, and Matthew McKay, Ph.D