Saturday, September 17, 2011

On Guard!

 One thing that I’ve learned since Dad went on ahead is that there are lots of similarities across the board in people who are grieving.  And, although every person, every family, and every situation is unique, every death is a personal catastrophe for those who loved the one who died.  Every person who dies leaves a gaping hole in the lives of those left behind.  And, though we all deal with things in different ways, there are some patterns, emotions, and reactions that are commonly seen when a loss has been experienced.

I’ve read a lot about these similarities, part of my quest for information about grief, a.k.a. “Is this normal or am I losing my mind?” (I still haven’t figured out why there isn’t a “What to Expect” book for grief like there is for pregnancy and childhood!)  I’ve learned that grief can result in physical pain as well as emotional, that it can affect appetite and sleep patterns/energy levels, and that it can interfere with concentration and decision-making abilities. 

But one thing I haven’t heard much about in relation to grief is something clinically called Nosophobia, an irrational fear of contracting a disease or illness.  I’ve heard of this type of thing being common in medical students and others in this type of training; in fact, sometimes this is referred to as Medical Students’ Disease.  It should also be called Survivors' Disease; it leaves those of us left behind waiting for the other shoe to drop.  To me, it feels like constantly being "On guard," waiting for something to go wrong, feeling a sense of some danger that is lurking just around the corner from wherever I am.

In the case of grief, I think this fear is related to several things – a feeling of vulnerability, having experienced the worst kind of being out-of-control during the illness/death of our loved one, seeing first-hand that tragedy and serious illness can come out of nowhere, and the physical pain and other physical issues that sometimes occur with grief like insomnia and weight loss.  I don’t think it’s irrational.  For me, it’s like a nagging headache or a splinter in my foot that I just can’t quite get rid of, no matter what I do. 

Besides my dad, something else that I have lost this year is a sense of security, my faith that everything will truly be ok, that with love and effort always come good results.  Now I feel like I should be preparing for disaster or devastation, because I know first-hand that it happens.

If a person who does everything right can get so sick so fast, that means anyone can.  That precarious balance of things can be upset and forever altered in the blink of an eye.  If we did everything just right to get Dad better and he didn’t, that means either we didn’t do it right or anything could happen.  If he could be terminally ill without a single sign, anyone could. With that realization, I am fluctuating between thoughts of living a completely reckless, carefree life  (Base jumping, anyone?  Hell YES I will have dessert at every meal every day and hell NO I’m not going to worry about saving a dime, ever!)  and holing up to try to avoid anything bad. 

Although I do know even something as extreme as never leaving my house won’t prevent the worst from happening.  Or even delay it.  It’s like that movie, Final Destination.  We can do whatever the hell we think is right to keep ourselves healthy, but when it’s our time, boom!  And that’s terrifying.  Not why me or why my dad but WHY??   If my dad’s illness and death were part of some Plan, why did that Plan include so much suffering?  Couldn’t he (we) at least have skipped that part?  I’ve heard it said that we are not given more than we are strong enough to handle – does that mean if I were a weaker person, Dad would still be here?  (Please note, this question is rhetorical – this is me grieving OUT LOUD, not asking for input.)

We take so many things for granted -- as we should, to go on with our lives. We don't ever stop to wonder, standing at the kitchen door, if the hug or kiss goodbye, before each of us leave to go about our day, will be the last.  How could we ask such questions and get through the day?  And really, that’s what most of life is – the little things, the moments, the shared tears and laughter, our perspective and appreciation (or lack thereof) that all add up to memories and relationships and impact.

Anyone who has suffered a loss would give almost anything to go back to experience those everyday kinds of things again, before their world and their reality were interrupted by loss and all those feelings that come along with it.  I think about the last time I saw my dad before he was diagnosed, the last email he sent to me, the last text, the last voice mail he left me, the last birthday card he signed.  Obviously I did not know those would be the last of anything at the time.  So how do I keep from tormenting myself by thinking that any of these things from anyone else I know and love will be the last?  I don’t know, but I do know that I have to figure it out, to re-engage, to push forward, to wash the dishes and make the bed, again and again, for as long as I am so lucky to be able to do it.  Because I guess the only guarantee, the only thing that is for sure as far as I can tell, is that choosing to make the best of all we are fortunate enough to have in this moment will make things seem brighter, will enrich our lives and those of others, and will help us to strengthen us, so that we can make it through the hard times when we are called to battle.  The gratitude that we can choose to see in everyday events, routine jobs, and simple moments can transform common days into thanksgivings and ordinary opportunities into blessings, as long as we keep our perspective.

-‎"Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."
 - Robert Brault


  1. All a process not the destination. All a part of the whole and never able to see the whole.

  2. Wow, I so understand all this... after our sons died, my hub always says, "Why not have dessert first?!" It is all a dance of integration here, too. How do we engage to love each other as much as we can in every moment we have -- precisely because we know how quickly our sons' moments went by... Anyway... no answers... just another bereaved being walking the unfolding path, too...
    Miracles to you...

  3. Hi. I love your term Survivors Disease. It relates to a post I wrote ( about a different kind of cancer survivor. I lost my four grandparents and then my mom in a span of 8 years. My mom was the shocker. She ate right, took care of herself, exercised, didn't smoke, and BAM pancreatic cancer came in and took her life. I always thought my dad with his heart problems would go first, not my mom, whose parents both lived to age 92 and were in relatively good health. I get scared that I will get pancreatic cancer, or some sort of cancer, and leave my children without a mom. It's like you said - waiting for the other shoe to drop. I've had a lot of shoes drop in the past 11 years, and I've learned not to take anything for granted, especially life. ~ Kathy