Updated: May 1
It is hard to imagine going through life without real grief when suddenly a situation thrusts you in the middle of it. I feel like I’ve been living in a dream (more like nightmare) for the past two years and seven months where the first thoughts of the day and last images at night are of my parents, the people I lost, mourn and my heart aches for. There is an undeniable pain that resides in the pit of your stomach to the depths of your soul. The feeling is always there, weighing me down like I am tethered to an anchor and am doing my best to stay above water. The wounds of grief feel fresh and ever present, hidden right below the surface, ready to bubble up, where I can’t catch my breath after swallowing water, breathing in deeply with a sharp pain in my lungs. My wounds are there yet completely invisible to the naked eye. On the surface, I look normal.
Having lost both of my parents within a span of two years and being the CCG (Chief Caregiver) for my mother during the pandemic, the trauma remains. The only way for me to comprehend this grief journey is by knowing that if you love someone so fiercely while alive, it is only natural to grieve the loss just as fiercely. I have noticed how my disposition, my reactions, my understanding of what I am going through has morphed and changed so often that sometimes I do not recognize myself. Grief is a funny thing, well not funny at all, but it can move you in ways you did not think possible, challenge your fortitude, bend your comfort level or, leave you with utter sadness and debilitating paralysis. I learned that grief is not a choice, as if I want to be sad. It is a process, a long, strange, and uncomfortably slow process. I did my best caring for my mother and now try to honor her as best as I can. This essay is not about sadness, it is about using that feeling towards something. Something better, something meaningful and something that makes the profound grief I feel, for something good.
I think back to the time I heard my mother say, "What choice do I have?" when my sister asked her how she remained so positive after hearing of her terminal diagnosis. Not only did she live and breathe it, she embodied positivity. She never gave up – through her treatments and endless indignities of being poked and prodded, she remained optimistic. As much as I try to repeat her mantra and be upbeat, I often catch myself asking her out loud "Mom, show me how?" And then I realize I am talking to myself. This is what grief does to a person. It is going the through it, when time stands still and you are alone, and the disbelief that our loved ones are no longer here to ask "Mom, show me how" is all consuming. I think that is the hardest part. I can either wallow in my grief, as I have found myself or follow in my mother's footsteps and say, "What choice do I have" and move forward constructively. She was definitely onto something!
Turning towards and embracing my grief instead of keeping it bottled up, I’ve tried to embrace uncertainty, and it has led me down an unchartered path without a particular destination. I am certain I am on the right course and try to be open to change instead of turning inward, my usual M.O. As such, I choose to use my sorrow for something worthy of my attention and energy. As if on cue, after I taped the last box shut of packing away my parents’ things, I swear I heard my mother say, "What choice do you have?". And that is when I knew I would be all right.
After the loss of my mother, I chose to take part in the annual Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PANCAN) Purple Strides walk. The annual, nationwide PANCAN Purple Strides walk raises much needed funds in support of everything related to combatting Pancreatic Cancer, from Patient and Caregiver support, matching patients with clinical trials, finding Doctors in your area to funding research and everything in between. While I am comfortable with writing a check for a worthy cause, I chose to walk in the purple strides event, encouraged a few of my friends to join my team and before I knew it, we raised $1000 in the name of my mother Susan. Although my grief was ever present throughout the day, I know that I was fueling that feeling towards something meaningful. I was not alone. My mother would have been so proud. I cannot wait until next year's event as my goal is to double the team's members and donations. I’ve already committed to becoming a team captain again, for TEAM QUEEN OF EVERYTHING at the 2023 Purple Strides event on Saturday, April 29, 2023 and would be honored to have your support.
Additionally, I became a PANCAN Advocate and sat on a panel with other surviving family members, researchers, and Rock Star Advocates by taking part in PANCAN's Day of Action and got the opportunity to speak with Congress. I spoke with a few United States House of Representatives and several congressional aides. It was awe-inspiring being on a panel with others whose personal lives were directly affected by knowing someone who was diagnosed with this awful disease and wanted to do something about it. Or like me, got involved as a means of dealing with their own grief. I was able to share my mother's story - not the sad part but the person she was, the professional powerhouse who supported the progress of cancer research. The pride I felt bringing Susan to life, sharing what her interests were and conveyed how important it was to her to fund scientific research, especially in pancreatic cancer research., driving home the message that her last charitable act was making a sizable contribution to a pancreatic cancer research lab that was near and dear to her heart. This year the meeting was held via Zoom, next year I am hoping to go to Capitol Hill!
While I am certainly no expert in dealing with loss, managing grief or how to function like a normal person (did I ever?), I can tell you that I have felt an abundance of pride honoring my mom and using my loss into something positive and meaningful. Getting myself involved in meaningful causes, like supporting PANCAN is the best way I know to combat the grief, honor my mom, and be part of something greater than little ol’ me. When I hear "What choice do you have?" in my head I already know the answer. Thank you, Mom, for showing me how, yet again, to move forward!