As a grief & loss counselor, coach and educator, you come to understand the profound misconceptions of loss. As a formal funeral director, it became clear; culturally grief and loss were synonymous with a death and divorce. Over the years it became increasingly troubling to work in an industry that profited from death, yet gave little consideration to provide any additional support or resources for the grieving. This chasm created such unrest, the decision to return to school, gain an education, blend life experience and earn the necessary credentials of a grief and loss expert made sense. The journey began in the fall of 2009. As the summer of 2010 drew to a close, it become necessary to address some long-term health issues that could no longer be put off. It was during time, an x-ray would reveal a tumor at the head of the pancreas. Three weeks of oncology visits, iron infusions and further testing confirmed the tumor was cancerous. There are words to express the fear and overwhelming dread that filled the mind and the sadness that fills the heart. That Saturday afternoon, it was impossible to prolong contemplating the process of death.
Cancer is a difficult secret to keep, yet it was to great a burden to initially share with the children and family, but the realization of losing precious minutes to secrecy gave way to a profoundly emotional family council. Time became both an enemy and friend. It took weeks to be able to look in the mirror and say, "I have cancer". Pancreatic cancer is unkind, unrelenting, unforgiving and deadly, for most time is short. There had been many friends within the community with similar diagnosis that did not survive. It was this revelation that provided a beautiful opportunity to evaluate life, goals, dreams and relationships. It also provided an interesting look into the past and a very personal history of loss and unresolved issues of grief. How does one prepared for surgery of this magnitude? It was impossible to comprehend the degrees of loss one experiences when given a death sentence, especially between a mother and her children. As a single parent, there was no comfort in trying to comprehend living without the kids, their unconditional love, daily hugs, big kisses and the infinite joy they bring. It was unbearable to imagine the loss of not being present for future marriages, grandchildren, milestones, and precious late night conversations. It not the fear of death that consumes the mind, it is the immeasurable losses of life.
The journey back to restored health has been filled with good days, hard days, tears, pain and a renewed sense of profound gratitude for life, loss and suffering. In every sense you have the ability to become a different (changed) person. Looking back, to the experiences at the funeral home, its now clear death was not the only loss families were grieving, but the other significant issues of unresolved grief and loss in their lives. The cemetery became a hallowed ground for people trying to express what they couldn't say in life. Loss is a universal experience. Some will lose trust, others will lose their innocence, families will lose beloved pets, relationships end, and families are broken. In reality these compounded losses are equally as painful and in many cases more complicated by the various addictions with drugs, alcohol, self-medicating, eating disorders, food and sex. It's time to acknowledge the damage caused by compounded losses and unresolved grief throughout a lifetime. Death is not the only loss, but it is the final loss.
Today, with a master's degree in social work and a greater understanding of the influence of home, neighborhood and community there are ways to gently guide people through their darkness (loss) helping them acknowledge, resolve and heal their grief. Everyone will experience loss; it’s part of the fabric of life. It’s learning to trust yourself and the process heart while opening your heart. Loss is a universal experience and grief is the profoundly personal expression of your journey.