On Death, Grief & Responsibility
This my original post to the Circle list on 1/13/03. Someone also posted it to the Promise** list.
If the prospect of death by cancer bothers you, delete now.
To those remaining, this is mainly directed to the women/companions of men with prostate cancer (PCa), although I am not excluding the men. I am especially interested in women who lost their man to PCa.
I don't believe this particular topic has been discussed.
If you don't know me but I have very advanced PCa. I was diagnosed with it three years ago and, since then, I do occasionally show up on this list and some of the other lists, meaning I am no newcomer.
There is no way that one can avoid the subject of death when dealing with cancer. We may not talk about it -- and usually don't, especially we men -- but it is there. It is a major reason that cancer is so frightening to so many and often the woman/companion carries it quietly and in a different way than the man.
Something happened to me nearly a week ago that I want to relate, that will put my query into context.
Over the last 3 years, I've lost friends but I had not personally met any of them. Nor were they part of my everyday life. But on last Monday, I lost a really, close friend and it devastated me. My wife Caren came in (with the cordless) to tell me that he was dead. I began to cry even as I took the call. I heard the news and then hung up and completely fell apart.
Caren, while crying also, embraced me and we cried together for a long time. I don't know how I would have taken it, if I had been living alone.
Over the next couple of days, a couple of things happened.
First, my friend was part of my life and routine here in Cincinnati and suddenly I found myself being reminded of him when that routine came up and I had to fight the grief. I know there will be many more.
Next -- and we are approaching the point I want to raise/ask -- I finally realized that if I died, who would hold my Caren? Who would help her through so many daily reminders that I am gone?
At best, we men do our legal responsibilities. We file a will and possibly a medical power of attorney but we don't seem to discuss or have ways to help a wife, companion, family member get through the loss. Maybe it is because we don't like the subject or maybe the wife/companion doesn't. But other than wills and the like, we tend to shut it out.
I think we men with PCa have a responsibility to do more than file a will. But I have not seen or heard of what can be done by the man (and this could apply to a woman as well, if situations were reversed) to help the other get through the loss, and that grief will take more than a few days. Who will help her with meals when she has lost interest? Who will make sure that some of her routines (like paying a bill) are maintained? Who will help her with a sudden burst of anguish when something reminds her of what happened? (And all of these pronouns can be changed, if the woman is lost.)
There are some common answers like having an older child or maybe a close friend who comes and stays but even that implies that the child or friend has been prepared well in advance, with the consent of the man. And, yes, if one is religious, one can turn to their beliefs. But, given those more familiar means, what else should be done, especially if there is no older child? Or if the person has no religion? Or if the close friend lives in another state and has a full time job?
As you can tell, I'm looking at the TOUGH cases, for if there can be some good advice for them, we can work out the easier ones.
We (as a society) have fire drills and earthquake drills and we have so many ways of dealing with disaster, but what about the GRIEF that comes with loss? What -- if anything -- can be done well in advance? I don't think grief can be avoided, but is there a way to lessen it, other than the obvious ones I just said?
This part may be difficult for women who lost their man but looking back, is there something he or you or the two of you could have/should have done that would have prepared you for the grief and would have helped you get through it better?
I am raising this issue because after Caren had comforted me in my grief, I realized that I have a responsibility to do what I can to make sure she gets the support that she needs, but I haven't a clue, other than the common ones (family etc). Even then, I am not sure how to set it up. But we have gentle raised the topic and she knows I'm asking around.
Don't get me wrong. I don't think there is some magic bullet or a one-size-fits-all approach but I would like to hear some ideas, on the list or off.
Dx'd 11/23/99 PSA 1000+ Stage M1c
To help overcome the effects of prostate cancer
On 1/9/03, I wrote a longer piece on this in my cancer journal.
** Promise is a mailing list for those grieving a loss. It also offers help and support to those with a spouse, partner, or family member in the last stages of life. Go here for more information.