I once heard someone say, “It’s the suffering body that brings us together.” In my case, that’s true. However, for many others it’s the suffering body that tears families apart.
Three months ago, my mother was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. If you don’t know what that is, it is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes abnormal myeloblasts. In normal terms, it means that she has cancer of the blood and it has spread all throughout her body. One day she was hiking up the side of a mountain, and the next she was told that if she didn’t go in for chemo then she would only have two more weeks to live. Through speaking with other Leukemia patients, I’ve learned that this is not an uncommon story. It’s the type of disease that sneaks up on you and when you’re not looking, it ties your shoelaces together causing you to fall flat on your face.
Though these past few months have been a roller coaster of emotions, the most shocking part hasn’t been how positive and supportive my mom has been to us, but how each member of my family has managed to deal with her illness together.
When you’re walking the halls of a hospital you hear coughs and see sick patients lying in their beds, but what you don’t see is the far reaching impact their disease is having on those around them. As soon as my mom was diagnosed with Leukemia I immediately began this mantra in my head, “No expectation for how others grieve.” I knew that if I didn’t start saying that to myself right away, then I may get frustrated by my own expectations for others. Much like there is no one right way to live your life, there is no one right way to grieve. Everyone is different, and at times you’re more vulnerable and susceptible to selfish thoughts instead of considering how your support is affecting the whole.
I have been extremely blessed to have an amazing Dad, and three equally amazing older brothers at my side. Each one of us has said something stupid to the other and at times each one of us has confronted each other, but the final result remains the same - we are one whole working together to get my mom through this. We love each other and, through the bad, also comes tremendous growth. No matter what your situation is, there is always a positive.
I truly believe that life is just about learning and as soon as you learn your lesson then the universe or God rewards you with your next challenge. The secret is to share what you know with others so hopefully they don’t have to go through the same pain. Below I have outlined seven things I would like you to know about grieving with others:
No expectation for how others grieve. This is the number one rule. No questions asked. Everyone is different and everyone deserves to be respected for their differences. Who knows, maybe you could learn a better coping mechanism from those around you.
Crying is magical. Don’t hold back your tears. Even if you do it alone. Tears heal and are better shared.
Crying is magical... until you start feeling sorry for yourself. Then you need to check yourself at the door and ask yourself one simple question, “Are my actions supporting others around me?” If they’re not, then you need to climb outside of yourself and do something for another. Period.
You’re not perfect. One day you may feel like you have everything in a good place and the very next day you’re a hot mess. That’s okay. No one is expecting you to be perfect, so don’t expect it from yourself.
You will be attracted to those who have gone through something similar. There is something so comforting talking to someone who has experienced the same or similar illness. They just get it. They understand that there is nothing anyone can say to make you feel better because your only control is to know that you have none.
It’s okay to be happy. Even if you’re going through something horrific, it doesn’t mean you need to act like it. Life keeps moving and it’s okay to keep moving forward too. Being productive in your job is just as healing as sitting at someone’s bedside while they’re sick. In fact, during this time you should do anything within your power to make yourself happy. Happiness is infectious and that is an infection everyone is willing to catch.
Worrying is selfish. You have a responsibility to be there for others. There is no choice in the matter, but if you are only being there for others through worry, then you’re not really there at all. You’re making it about yourself instead of somebody else. Write them a card or buy groceries for those around you. Do anything instead of worry. You’re not helping anyone, especially yourself and those you love.
I truly hope this helps others who are going through something similar. I documented my mom’s journey through leukemia on instagram. Feel free to follow me for updates or just to help shape your day into a better perspective.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ali Shadle is a professional life enthusiast and self-taught Product Designer based in Santa Monica, CA. She is constantly seeking different outlets to help make the world a better place. She is currently building an interactive graphic novel for news that can be found on the web at www.urthlabs.com. Her mother was recently diagnosed with Leukeima and she has been lucky enough to have four amazing men at her side watch her for big things to come. You can follow her on twitter @AliShadle.