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Learning from grief and loss: Jack's final gift


One day, while sitting on the front porch and the phoenix5 logo thinking about Jack while tears streamed down my cheeks, I remembered how Caren comforted me, despite her own grief, and I realized that, despite my loss, I had been given something.

I have terminal prostate cancer and there is a likelihood that it will kill me. It is not a new thought. It has pressed in on me many times over these three years and I used the moments to deal with thoughts about life and my own mortality.

Death was actually the first subject that I had studied when I entered the philosophy program at (what was then) San Francisco State College, but it was always in the abstract. Nothing like cancer to bring it into focus.

But that day on the porch, I realized that as much as I had thought about the prospects of my own death and how I might deal with those final days, weeks or months, I had never considered the feelings of others or how my death might effect them. When the grief of Jack's death hit, Caren embraced me and she has been there for me since. But if I were to die, who would embrace Caren? I had gone through the usual mortality motions like writing a will and getting a medical power of attorney but I had not considered the emotional effects that my death might cause her or another, as Jack's had caused in me.

Others might cry, as I have cried for lost friends, but who would be there for Caren as she tries to go through daily routines that remind her of me? That, I have came to realize, is the most difficult" those simple, everyday routines or objects that we never really notice, that involve another who is now gone. Don't we have a responsibility to do something more than merely writing a will?

Realizing it, my grief began to lift slightly for the first time. It didn't disappear but it gave me a focus.

Grief -- for me -- is personal. It may be caused by another but we are the ones who feel it. Like pain, we hurt. But there is another part: what we do or learn from it.

If I were to stub my toe while crossing a darkened room, I can be in extreme pain. I might yell, scream, cry or cuss because it hurts. But once that initial pain has dissipated so we can think, shouldn't we do something about it? For example, we might decide to never walk barefoot in the dark or we might learn to move potential hazards so it won't happen again. Or we might waste the moment and just curse and scream and blame someone for our agony.

I prefer the former, to finally find a way to integrate the experience, although it may take awhile. I am a firm believer in Nietzsche's maxim, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." And each time that I have done it, in some magical way it has helped to lift or ease the pain. It also finally taught me that each moment of emotional pain would pass. It allowed me to experience the grief, agony or depression because I knew -- like the stubbed toe -- that as painful as it was in the moment, it wasn't permanent. I might be hobbling for days but even that would pass. And if it didn't -- if they had to amputate my toe -- it is not the end of the world. I have the ability to adjust to that. It is just up to me to find how to do it.

I have seen this already with families who lost loved ones on Flight 93, on 9/11. I happen to have a Web site devoted to Flight 93 and have been fortunate to correspond with some of them and to learn how some sought to turn their loss and their grief into a way to help others, often through foundations. I can draw from their brave example.

Meanwhile, the pain of Jack's loss will stay with me for a long time. I am sure that months from now, I will come across another reminder and I will cry, but in the meantime, I can use it, such as trying to find a way to help Caren, should I die, and maybe this can help another, for it is certainly not a subject of discussion in the prostate cancer community.

How to do it, I don't know yet. It is too new and I may still hurt too much. But I will be raising the issue on some of the prostate cancer lists, much to the chagrin of some, I am sure. But women who have lost men to the disease will know what I am talking about and maybe I can learn from them.

It is Jack's final gift and maybe we can share it with others.


Referenced material:
"Death, Grief & Responsibility"
"Remembering Jack"
The Legacy of Flight 93 Web site

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This information is provided for educational purposes only and does not replace or amend professional medical advice. Unless otherwise stated and credited, the content of Phoenix5 (P5) is by and the opinion of and copyright © 2000 Robert Vaughn Young. All Rights Reserved. P5 is at <>. P5's policy regarding privacy and right to reprint are at <>.