How do I stay strong?

 

How do I stay strong?

QUESTION:

your avatar   Nicole (23 year old woman)

One of my closest friends was admitted into the hospital for what the doctors believed was an infection. That was a Monday. On Tuesday he was diagnosed with lung cancer. On Wednesday they found a Brain Tumor. They haven't given a prognosis, but do you really need one with those odds? This guy has been there for me through the toughest times and the best of times. How do I prepare myself for his very likely death. I love him so much. He is 29, never smoked, never drank, and never did drugs. The doctors are so shocked with his diagnosis. How do I go on knowing what the outcome will probably be? My very close cousin just died of breast cancer and another good friend was diagnosed with Leukemia just 3 months ago. Why is this happening to everyone that I care about? Please tell me how to deal with it?

How do I handle all of this and continue to remain strong for him?

ANSWER:

    Brenda Kofford, LMHC

Dear Nicole,

You write about a subject which stirs up anxiety for all of us; that is, the potential death of a significant person and/or ourselves, the powerlessness we all have in regards to the natural course of life, and the intense feelings people experience when a death occurs counter to our expected time frame.

The difficulty I have in writing a response to your letter is based upon the belief that life is an ongoing process of change. Therefore, while my response to your letter is going to be as if your question is drawn from the present, it needs to be noted that since your letter was written over a year ago it may not be a fit to what concerns you today.

Your brief letter outlined a frightening series of events in regards to your friend's health, yet you did not indicate if you were informed that his death was imminent and certain. Therefore, I am not sure if your question is drawn from the expectation that he is to die in the near future, the uncertainty of when to expect his death, the difficulty of being present to his declining health and pain, or your wish to sustain hope.

You also noted that you experienced the death of a close family member and that recently a friend was diagnosed with Leukemia. Further, at the time of your writing, you were 23 years of age and consequently dealing with the changes that are associated with the developmental stage of young adulthood. This is a time in which there is a newly defined separation from one's family of origin and a process of clarification about one's self in an adult role. Consequently, your family's own myths, beliefs, and rituals about death and the manner by which you have launched from home (emotionally connected or, emotionally cutoff) may define what it means to you to handle all of this and remain strong.

I am also unclear as to your relationship with your friend's family. From whom are you, as an outsider, able to obtain clear and accurate information about your friend's medical condition? There are times when ill patients do not speak openly with family or friends. Also, it is important to consider that while the family may get the basic information from the doctor, this understanding may be supplemented by bits of information from other sources and then go through a process of amplification, distortion, and reinterpretation before it is shared with you or your friend.

The dynamics of your relationship with the family may affect how you acknowledge your own entitlement to grieve and what anticipatory grief stirs up within you. The intense feelings, the unspoken issues and myths, as well as the dynamics of a family may result in an outsider absorbing their anxiety and taking on family roles.

The manner by which this may occur, unintentionally, is illustrated in the movie, "While you were Sleeping." This is a story of a young female who finds herself unable to disclose the truth about her relationship with a young man who is in a coma. She joins in the family's myth that any message counter to what the family wants to hear will result in a decline in the grandmother's health. Her belief that it is her responsibility to take on the role of caretaker in this family is intensified by a family friend who tells her that she has the power to hurt the young man's family.

Nicole, how one grieves is a very personal journey and there is no easy way through the process. Do not be too quick to judge how you or others mourn. Embrace the knowledge that each individual must find his/her own way. Find a support group that you feel safe enough to speak of the range of intense feelings you experience and allows you to learn how others have walked through their own grief. When the time is right for you, let this experience be an invitation for you to learn about your own beliefs about life, dying, and death and explore how your family legacies were born out of significant losses.

Brenda Kofford

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