It’s Tough to Say “Good-bye”

Nancy Sanker Health Guide
  • The boxes are surrounding us….moving day is right around the corner. There are the basics to do like call the utility companies, make sure our magazines follow us to our new home and a host of other little details, but at the top of the list is finding a new veterinarian. This is where sadness moves into my standing-room-only brain. We just found out our chocolate lab, Kahlua, is dying from bone cancer and has less than three months to live. This is bad timing, but when is the timing ever good to say farewell to a beloved, four-legged confidante?

    We have had to move forward, in spite of our deep sadness. As I was making one of many trips to the new house to check on construction, I compared the grief work associated with losing a favorite pet or beloved person to the challenges of grieving after being diagnosed with a chronic disease. The similarities are staggering yet many individuals do not make the connection. Losing a loved one and losing a healthy, care-free lifestyle have commonalities. They’re both sad situations that alter our lives, but the fact is that most of us come out of the dark tunnel of loss with new knowledge and a fresh perspective on life.
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    So…what can we learn from the valuable resources that exist on grieving? First of all, just as you are unique, how you handle the loss of your perfect health is unique. Your grief, which is how you feel inside and mourning, or how your loss is reflected on the outside, are yours and yours alone. Do not let anyone stall you or encourage you to move at a faster pace.

    Despite the pain of grieving, it is important not to ignore or avoid it. Suppressed grief may resurface and affect your mental or physical well-being when you are trying to cope with yet another loss. “You must step up to your grief, meet it and embrace it,” says Deborah Morris Coryell, co-founder and president of The Shiva Foundation in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

    There are three basic stages of grieving which provide a framework for acknowledgement, understanding and acceptance:

  • Shock or disbelief

  • Confrontation or the pain of realizing your loss and

  • Accommodation or healing

  • There is not a logical and smooth progression from stage to stage. Many times we will spend much longer in one phase, only to circle back and focus on a previous level. Be patient with yourself as you grapple with grief work while juggling a new diagnosis, medications and equipment at the same time. Acknowledge that this can be exhausting and reward yourself!

    I’ll bet you can remember when you or your loved one was diagnosed with asthma. I certainly do. The shock of the moment helped etch in my mind the room we were in, who we were with and what we were doing. One of the ways we process and absorb the news is by telling family members and friends. People who care about us are the shock-absorbers of life.

    Denial, often accompanied by disbelief, can be a powerful anesthetic. It can trade spaces with a wide range of powerful emotions including anger, guilt and extreme sadness. In my work with educational support groups in the past eighteen years I have seen anger and guilt woven through many conversations. Anger was frequently aimed at healthcare professions who were reticent to “label” a child with an asthma diagnosis, thereby placing the family in diagnostic purgatory as they struggled to cope with an unknown foe. Guilt was worn like a cinder-block necklace by more than one mother who stayed too long with a physician who delivered questionable care.

  • Confronting the loss of good health is one of the most valuable aspects of educational support group participation. Time after time individuals who were newly diagnosed patients or parents spoke of their pain and frustration and they were almost always met with compassionate understanding. Talking with mothers who understood the angst of giving a struggling two year old a breathing treatment was medicine for the other parents! Dads admitted to other fathers during the “For Fathers Only” meeting that they initially thought their children would not be able to participate in sports. Appropriate medications gave them the green light to join their peers and gave the Dads reason to cheer.
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    Ahhhhh…. accommodation or healing is also evident in support groups. There’s the co-leader who had her world knocked off its axis when her son was diagnosed, but has become educated and had the grace to offer a newly-shocked parent a welcoming hug. Yes, grief has occurred, but healing has taken its place.

    Grief is a powerful teacher. It prompts us to recognize hidden strengths and to treasure the gifts we own, but too often take for granted. It also is the great connector. Don’t you feel a sense of connection with someone when she reveals she has a child with asthma or she takes an inhaler from her purse? Finally, grief is a potent equalizer. And that’s why when people ask about my Kahlua and I tell them what the future holds, they say, “I’m sorry,” and I know they really mean it.

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Published On: October 04, 2006