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Mothering › Child Articles › 8 Months After Losing My Child To Cancer 5 Things That Help 4 That Dont

8 Months After Losing My Child to Cancer: 5 things that help; 4 that don't

By Suzanne Leigh



What helps:


1. When I hear her name. My daughter’s name is Natasha; I love hearing people say her name; I wish they’d say it more often. I love seeing her name on her possessions, including (inexplicably) her medications that we continue to hoard. I even like seeing new spam sneak into her inbox, or junk mail addressed to her in our mailbox. Recently a former classmate recognized me at the pool where my younger daughter was taking classes. “Are you Natasha’s mother?” Those words made my soul sing. Her name: Thank you! Reference to me as her mother: Thank you! Use of present tense: Yes, I am Natasha’s mother –- always will be. Thank you.


2. When people acknowledge her life. A Christmas gift and birthday card for Natasha that were sent after her passing gave us a brief burst of joy; they validated our drive as grieving parents to keep at least part of her alive. But both senders were almost apoplectic with regret: they were so sorry, it had been a ghastly mistake! Why is it that people think that if they act like our daughter is still with us, we will be terribly insulted? Did they think that we’d forgotten that we'd had a daughter who had died and that the card and gift would be unpleasant reminders?


3. Hearing, "You’ll never get over it,” from my bereaved aunt who lost her teen son in an auto accident many years ago. That assertion rings true to us and it gives us peace. Conversely, non-bereaved parents seem to cling to the conviction that we will get over it.


4. Other parents who have lost a child to cancer. We speak the same language: CT scans, MRIs, CBCs, IVs, chemo, radiation, "artificial nutrition" ... It takes a cancer parent to understand the turmoil invoked with each of those words. Bereaved parents don’t respond with panic when they see us cry — something that shocks many people, especially if a father is crying. Bereaved parents know that tears don’t mean we’re having an unusually rough day, any more than laughter means we’re having a good day. Crying is just something bereaved parents do –- possibly every day and possibly copiously. Bereaved parents get it. Tissues over here, please.


5. Hearing from people who read my blog. Thank you to everyone who has shared their own stories with me, either privately or on this blog. Writing about Natasha is my therapy; thank you for reading it.


What doesn’t help:


1. Anti-depressants. Disclosure: I’ve never taken them. Would I be open to taking them? Perhaps and I certainly see their benefit for some types of mental illness. But child loss is not an illness. I think I feel exactly the way any bereaved mother who loves her child should feel: desperate grief. Prozac et al are off the table, at least for now.


2. Therapy. I haven’t closed the door to it (yet) but I’ve never met a bereaved parent who claims to have been helped by it. I’m open to hearing other opinions.


3. Celebrations, vacations, barbecues, “girls nights out,” your child’s graduation, bridal showers, baby showers. I can’t do any of them. Sorry. Thank you for inviting me, though.


4. Playing “at least she wasn’t.” My daughter wasn’t abducted and strangled at knifepoint by a psychopath; she didn’t die suddenly in a head on collision caused by a drunk driver; or on a ventilator after months in the ICU. She died at home in the arms of her family. She knew that she was loved and that we had tried to protect her every day of her life. This I don’t doubt. I’ve played the “at least she wasn’t …” game with myself and other bereaved parents and it doesn’t work. The truth is that there is no good way for a 12-year-old to die. And if I’d have gotten the chance to pick, I wouldn’t have picked the cancer card: the operations when her surgeon drilled through her skull to get to that vicious tumor, the fruitless cycles of chemo and futile irradiation of her entire brain and spine. There is no “at least she wasn’t.” Its dreadfulness is insurmountable.





Suzanne Leigh is a freelance health reporter, a Huffington Post blogger and the mother of two gorgeous girls. She blogs about her family at: www.themourningafternatasha.wordpress.com


Comments (21)

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Thank you so very much for this. I can completely agree with all of your "helps" items because they do help. I'm always surprised to hear people say they think the mention of my son's name will upset me. It is quite the contrary. I love his name, love the boy who had that name, and the less I hear it, the sadder I am.
I am a mom who lost her three-year-old son to a very rare leukemia in February of this year. It's an awful, awful road we travel, but I am so grateful to other parents who write through it. I have written my son's story at http://cisforcrocodile.wordpress.com. We still ache for him heartily each day, but there is comfort to be had in words like yours.
Oh, and for me, I have to say, therapy does help. It's a bit like a bandaid on a giant gash, but in the moments I am there and receiving such acknowledgement for my pain and anguish and bone-deep longing for my child, it helps. And it helps with the post traumatic stress so many of us cancer parents endure without realizing it. What I haven't found helpful is group therapy, not yet anyway.
I didn't loose a child, but my husband. People think that bringing his name up will make me sad. No, I am sad because my husband died, not because you are talking about him.
Istimestar, very well put: it's losing our loved ones that makes us sad, not mentioning their name. I am so sorry that you did lose your husband. Cpmamas, my heart hurts for you and your son, too. So, so sorry. Thank you for telling me that therapy has helped you. I am keeping all options open and yes, you are right, I think we do have post-traumatic stress. There are many people and places that I go out of my way to avoid, because of their associations with my child's disease and eventual death.
P/S, I'll be checking our http://cisforcrocodile.wordpress.com, cpmamas. Thanks for including it!
Thank you. My personal favorite is "you can always have another child." What? Or how about, "My dog died. My dog is just like a kid to me." Um. I love my pets and have been devastated by each and every one of their deaths, but.
One thing I'd suggest is changing "what doesn't work" to "things I'm not interested in," or something like that, since you can't honestly say anti-depressants and therapy don't work. As you say, you don't personally know that. I haven't used ADs, but I think the rationale is not that grief is an illness so much as that prolonged grief can damage the brain by shrinking the hippocampus and killing glial cells or causing them to atrophy. And possibly ADs can insulate against this. I don't think that, correctly prescribed by a good *psychiatrist* (vs say, a family doctor), they block the sadness, but they may make it possible for some people--after all, some people have to go to work, sometimes at dangerous or critical jobs requiring focus (such as air traffic control, or operating oil rigs), and they may need to get some sleep--to function despite the grief. For me, therapy did help, and I also thought group therapy was useful because it enabled me to get out of myself and reach out to others. Anyhow, 24 years out, and wishing you the best. No, you never get over, not ever, but you do go on.
Time does NOT heal, but it does fill up your life with other interesting things.
My heart is breaking for your loss, I lost 2 siblings one of them to cancer at age 24 and one of them to a gun accident at 14. Now that I have a son I was able to grasp my mother's pain at loosing 2 children, she is still heartbroken 20 years later. There is nothing natural about loosing a child. I admire your strength and will power to keep on living after such a terrible loss. I wish for you many happy days filled with great memories from your beautiful Natasha.
Thanks for your comments, Claudia. As a veteran bereaved mom, they were very useful. I haven't closed the door to anti-depressants but seem to sort of manage my grief reasonably well (I do take sleeping pills, which probably enable me to work). As it's my blog, I can't claim to speak for anyone else. Heidi Angel, your poor mom (and poor you, losing two siblings). Thank you saying my daughter's name; I love to hear it.
. My 6 year old daughter is currently battling brain cancer. We are entering the hospice phase of our journey......had our first meeting with the nurse today actually. Thank you for this article.
Tinyblackdot, I checked out your daughter's story on F/B. I don't know if this is any comfort to you, but the fact that your Maddie is only 6 enables you to shield her somewhat from the reality of what is going on. She looks so happy in the pictures (well done, Mama). My Natasha was 12 and we weren't able to protect her the way that you can. I look back on the last three months of her life and I can't say she was happy. I hope you had as positive experience as it's possible to have meeting your new nurse from hospice. Take care.
What a beautiful daughter. . .Natasha will live on in the hearts and minds of many.
Very moving story and I am so sorry for your loss of Natasha. I also lost my grown daughter just one year ago but it doesn't matter how old they are, she will always be my baby. One thing that has helped me alot is going to a grief group at our local church for people that have lost a child. It really does help to talk about her and know that your not alone in this journey. Best of luck to you and your family in finding peace again.
Thank you so much, Wenwhitlock. I hope my Natasha does live on in many people's hearts.
Bonnie, I am sorry you lost your grown-up daughter. It sounds like the grief group at your church is very helpful. I meet with other bereaved brain tumor parents and that makes me feel a little less alone.
Thank you for sharing a bit about your journey after losing Natasha.  One of the moms in my circle of friends just lost her daughter to cancer - this helps me quite a bit and I'll share it with my friends.
You never get over love ❤
I'm thinking about your comment mamalioness (little confused but I think I know what you're saying).
Anne T., You sound like an awesome friend.
 My cousin's twins were stillborn several years ago, and every year on their birthday I try to remember to send my cousin and his wife a card.  My husband usually quibbles with me over it, asking, "why would you want to remind them of something so sad?" This year, he finally convinced me that it was not in good taste to keep bringing it up, so I didn't send anything.  Now, after reading your post, I wonder if I wasn't right after all.  The anniversary is a few weeks' past, now, but perhaps I'll send a card after all. 
 Comtessa, Losing a 12-year-old is very different from losing a stillborn, but personally I would be very, very touched if a friend or family member remembered my child's birthday, even several years later. Thank you for being so sensitive to the feelings of your bereaved cousin. (I think your husband is wrong, by the way!)
Thank you for such a perfectly written post. I feel the same way. I lost my littlest one last year to neuroblastoma. She was 7 and now she's in heaven. Natasha is beautiful. It's never an easy road I find. It is always filled with pot holes and bumps, they just come in different sizes. I can say from experience to back up your statement, that I was taking antidepressants and it left me numb, unable to properly mourn. I stopped taking them a few months ago and I feel like I've just really begun to go through all the feelings I've been unable to express. It's a journey that only ends when we are reunited in heaven.
Mothering › Child Articles › 8 Months After Losing My Child To Cancer 5 Things That Help 4 That Dont