I think about loss from time to time, as you probably know if you’re a regular reader over here. I’ve discussed recovery from loss of a baby and other people’s reactions. But, we don’t only struggle or grieve over the loss of a person – whether they were fully-formed or not. Sometimes loss is part of growing into the person we have become, sometimes it leaves us feeling like something’s fundamentally missing, sometimes we can’t remember what it was like before we lost whatever it was. In this series of posts, I’ve asked some of my favourite blogging colleagues to write about a loss that they’ve experienced and how it affected them. You can find the full list here.
Today’s post is from Molly at Transatlantic Notes.
Molly and I have been following each other for a while now. We have a real common sense of what’s right and a shared desire to live a better life of equality and fairness. Molly’s blog discusses issues to do with mental health, equality, politics and food, as well as poems (much better than my very occasional offering). I highly recommend enjoying a browse of her wonderful posts.
Promise of a New Day
Loss, in one form or another, is something we will all experience. It runs the whole gambit of life’s ebb and flow, from missed opportunities to the death of a loved one and anything and everything in-between. It’s a common connection that links us all; I think even though we may not have the exact same experiences, our humanity can share empathy for one another — and I think that’s kind of beautiful.
And it’s in this vein that I wanted to write about a particularly painful time; still recent and rather raw, but one that I’m now ready to emotionally heal from. Therefore, when Smell contacted me to take part in her Lessons in Loss blog series; I felt like the universe was giving me an opportunity to take that initial step. Discovering a community that openly shares loss, however it manifests, is a balm to the soul and a reminder that we can overcome.
My husband was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in September 2019; a diagnosis that came out of nowhere after a routine visit to the dentist. What we thought would be his only surgery in December 2019 ended up being one of twenty that he would endure over the next sixteen months; not to mention the immunotherapy, 40 rounds of radiotherapy, speech therapy and physio. His last surgery was in March 2021 and although he may not be completely out of the shadow that cancer casts just yet; he is doing really well after many complications and setbacks. During this time, I became my husband’s carer; an intensely anxious time of learning new skills like surgery/incision care; skin graft dressing; tube feeding and airway suctioning, among other things. It was overwhelming but remains one of the most significant expressions of my endless and growing love that I have for him.
Caption: You can find more of my creative writing on my Poetry Page.
My husband will survive this. Many don’t, and that’s the devastating and arbitrary unfairness of cancer. It suddenly appears in your life, disrupts everything and then leaves you to pick up the pieces of your existence; even if your loved one makes it through, but especially if they don’t. I lost my father to cancer in 2012, so I take the responsibility of recounting my experiences very seriously; I’m aware just how lucky my husband and I have been.
The sense of loss I currently feel comes from the fact that there’s this singularly clear divide between life before a cancer diagnosis and life after it. As a matter of mental survival, you let all extraneous things go and become laser-focused on getting through the challenges it presents. I would do it a thousand times over for my husband, but cancer takes over all aspects of your life; it’s exhausting at a time when you need all your reserves of energy to support someone through their fears and pain. But somehow, remarkably you find a way, often tapping into a strength that you didn’t know you had; especially with the assistance of people around you that make sure you’re not facing anything alone. If you’re currently struggling, please hold on and allow yourself to accept the help you need. I promise you; it’s worth it.
Both my husband and I feel like we’ve lost ourselves; our life before cancer and who we were no longer exist. It’s changed us in ways we’ve yet to fully come to terms with, creating this very strange, heavy mournfulness; a grief for the life we once had. I didn’t think I would learn anything from this because it has felt like such a burden, but then came this incredible mindset shift: instead of having to rebuild because of something bad, we get to rebuild because of something good. My husband will continue improving, and I don’t take that privilege for granted.
I’ve also learned that no matter how hard it is to feel adrift and unsure; giving ourselves the time and grace needed to heal and move forward represents an essential step that cannot be rushed. We will make the best of this — and to anyone struggling through loss of any kind, you will too.
Thank you so much Molly for sharing this profoundly altering experience with us.