Jump to content

For Anyone Who's Ever Suffered A Loss


Recommended Posts

This article was in my inbox today and I sure could relate. I substitued Bailey, whom I had to let go on Dec 17th, for Mr. Jackson's name and gained some insight about my grief. I know initially, I didn't think I could bear the pain I was in, but I did, little by little, mainly because I have two other greys whom I love deeply and unconditionally. I hope this can help others dealing with loss. I know when someone loses a grey, I have a deeper understanding of pain and loss since I've experienced it myself.



by Alex Lickerman


“It isn’t what happens to us that causes us to suffer; it’s what we say to ourselves about what happens.” ~Pema Chodron


I remember when I first read the pathology report on my patient, Mr. Jackson (name changed), my stomach flip-flopped. “Adenocarncinoma of the pancreas” it said.


A week later, a CT scan revealed the cancer had already spread to his liver. Two months after that, following six rounds of chemotherapy, around-the-clock morphine for pain, a deep vein thrombosis, and pneumococcal pneumonia, he was dead.


His wife called me to tell me he’d died at home. I told her how much I’d enjoyed taking care of him, and we shared some of our memories of him. At the end of the conversation I expressed my sympathies for her loss, as I always do in these situations.


There was a brief pause. “It just happened so fast…” she said then and sniffled, her voice breaking, and I realized she’d been crying during our entire conversation. “I’m so sorry for your loss,” I told her again. She thanked me for caring for her husband and hung up.


I’d known Mr. and Mrs. Jackson for almost seven years and had always liked them both immensely. I thought the world a poorer place without Mr. Jackson in it and found myself wishing I’d done a better job of consoling his wife, thinking my attempts had been awkward and ineffective. I reflected on several things I wished I’d said when I’d had her on the phone and considered calling her back up to say them.


But then instead I wrote her a letter.




Dear Mrs. Jackson,


When you called me to tell me your husband had passed away and how hard a time you were having, I found myself frankly at a loss. Conventional wisdom about how to console people who’ve suffered grievous losses includes platitudes like “be there for them,” “listen,” and “let them know you care”—all valid and useful guidelines that I’m sure have brought comfort to many suffering people.


But inevitably conversations end, people go home to resume their normal lives, and the wife or husband or son or daughter is left alone with pain now occupying the space their loved one used to be. Though I don’t know how comforting you’ll find this letter, I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts about grief in hopes of making your journey through it somewhat more bearable.


Why do we suffer when we lose those we love? I think the true answer is because we believe we can’t be happy without them. Knowing how much you loved your husband, I can only imagine how strongly you must feel this to be true. And yet I often think the only reason the pain of loss abates at all is that we do become convinced we can be happy again—just slowly and unevenly.


Certainly, some people find themselves stuck in grief, unable to move on. Sometimes this happens because we actually become reluctant to surrender our grief even after it’s run its proper course, believing the pain of loss is the only thing keeping us connected to our loved one, or that to feel happy again would be to diminish the significance of the relationship we once enjoyed.


But neither is true. Even when people we love die, our relationships with them do not. We continue to have feelings about them, memories of things they did, imaginings of things they might say were they with us now. Just because the pain of losing them diminishes with time, their importance to us need not.


Normal grief is like a roller coaster: there are ups and downs, moments of pain intermixed with relief. If, however, after the first six months or so there seem to be fewer periods of relief rather than more, normal grief may have changed into full-blown depression. If you think this might be happening at any point, please let me know. I can help.


Everyone grieves differently. Don’t ever let anyone tell you how to do it. If you want to talk about your husband with others, do. If not, don’t. There’s definitely something mysterious about the human psyche–some intrinsic force within us that continually seeks to engulf pain and suffering the way our white blood cells engulf viruses and bacteria.


It’s an elixir we seem to swallow at the very moment our loss occurs that immediately begins to work on our suffering without us even knowing it but which nevertheless somehow eventually cures us of it.


After experiencing a devastating loss, if you’ve allowed yourself to feel the legitimate pain it’s brought and not sought to avoid feeling it, things slowly start to improve. We wake one morning to find there’s something in the day we’re actually looking forward to; or someone says something funny and we actually laugh; or we find ourselves able to plan things again, even if only a trip to the grocery store.


But there’s no definite timetable for this. Don’t allow anyone to hurry you along with their expectations about when your grief should end.


Just know that it will. It may seem to you now, while in the middle of the worst of it, that it won’t, that your happier self was only a dream and that this grieving self is here to stay for good. But that’s an illusion brought about only by your current life-condition. Nothing is forever, including the pain of loss.


Don’t grieve alone. I worry that you have no one with whom to share your grief (you’ve told me in the past how you were all alone except for your husband). While you may not have much energy for this, I find myself hoping you’ll join a support group, either at your church or by looking online.


There’s something often magically healing about spending time with others who’ve had or are having painful experiences similar to your own. It may seem an overwhelming prospect now, utterly beyond you, but often by holding someone else’s hand, by becoming their support, you’ll find your own pain lessens just a little bit.


When you shine a light to guide others on a dark road, your own way is also lit.


Forgive yourself your failures. You said on the phone you “felt guilty,” but not what you felt guilty about. I wondered about that.


I wondered if you felt guilty about having spent time doing things like seeing other people or watching television rather than spending every moment with him; or about feeling tired of caring for him; or about not always having a positive attitude when you were around him; or for wishing the nightmare of his illness had actually ended sooner—or any of a myriad of things family members have told me have made them feel guilty, too.


Or maybe you feel guilt about the decisions you made when your husband was no longer capable of making them himself. The end of a person’s life is often composed of gut-wrenching choices that land squarely on the shoulders of family members: to put in a feeding tube or not; to use mechanical ventilation or not; to use heroic measures or not; to decide not to press forward with an intent to cure but rather with the intent to palliate.


I know you struggled mightily with the decision to stop treatment and bring him home to be comfortable, but you must know your decision did not cause his death. His disease did. His disease is what thrust you into a situation you didn’t ask for or want, but accepted with grace, making every decision with as much deliberation and wisdom as you could muster, even when you were exhausted, and always with an eye towards his comfort.


Forgive my presumption, but if you feel guilt over any of these things—or over other things I didn’t mention—you must forgive yourself. There was never a need for you to be a perfect caregiver—only a caregiver who cared, and that you most certainly were. The person who gets sick is never the only one whose life is deeply affected by their illness. This was your experience, too.


I want you to know that watching the way you were with your husband always inspired me. I can only hope to face losses in my life with as much courage, acceptance, and humor as you and your husband did both.


While no one knows what happens when we die, we can say with certainty that we lie between two equally inconceivable possibilities, one of which must be true: either the universe has always existed and time has no beginning, or something was created from nothing.


Either case makes every one of us a miracle.


Alex Lickerman is a physician, the former director of primary care at the University of Chicago, and has been a practicing Buddhist since 1989. He blogs at www.happinessinthisworld.com



Jan with precious pups Emmy (Stormin J Flag) and Simon (Nitro Si). Missing my angels: Bailey Buffetbobleclair 11/11/98-17/12/09; Ben Task Rapid Wave 5/5/02-2/11/15; Brooke Glo's Destroyer 7/09/06-21/06/16 and Katie Crazykatiebug 12/11/06 -21/08/21. My blog about grief The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not get over the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This so true. I lost my 8 year old nephew two month ago in a tragic accident at our family business. He was ran over by his father who was driving a forklift. Needless to say the thing that the letter state are all so very true. It is hard half the time to go to work or do anything. All I have to say is if you know someone that is going through something like this friends and family stay close. People think that they need space but it is actually easier to get through with family and friends around. This is going to be our first holidays with out my nephew. :( I hope that Disneyland the happiest place on earth can help us cope with all our pain and remember all the good time we had there with my nephew.


Thanks for Sharing.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest tammara

Thanks for posting this. We had to let Bear go two months ago today, and I have been missing him so much lately. It is funny how grief works. I found initially I handled his death better than I am now. I think I was so relieved for him, for his pain and suffering in this world to end and to believe that he was in a better place. Now I find that I am just sad because I miss him so, and all his crazy antics. We had never had to make the decision before to euthanize, and while intellectually I know it was the right thing to do this quote really helps me remember that while we chose the time, his sickness made the decision.


your decision did not cause his death. His disease did.



Thanks for sharing this.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest kelli123

Thank you so much for posting this , We have had to euthanize

Two of our boys within months (osteo) and the pain i feel about the decision That I alone made, has just been killing me. I always thought what if, and if i would have tried something else or i should have waited maybe a few more days hours minutes before i made the call that ended it all has been killing me inside.


These words here give me comfort.

(your decision did not cause his death. His disease did.)


Our boys where the first real loves in my life that have ever died . I have never lost a family member friend or relative . So this was awful to loose something that you love so much. Time does heal and things do and will get better.


But i still have this Sickening (GUILT) feeling when i think of the decision I MADE THAT DAY that changed all of our lives for ever.

I have always been afraid of death Of loosing my family or me dyeing in general.



Thank you so much for posting this, I saved the web site also,

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...