Talking about Grief & Cancer, Easy, Right?!

Since starting this blog, it has taken on a life of its own in so many different ways. Early on it was the easiest avenue to keep everyone updated medically, as quickly as possible. As the battle continued, I think I wrote at one point that sometimes it is simply free therapy for me. Lately it’s been hard for me to know how to write at all. Last week though, I learned of a new avenue it’s taken from a family friend. I learned that it’s helped them understand how to best talk to us, support us. That stopped me dead in my tracks. I never connected those dots.

I mean, I know our circumstances are impossible. Like worst case scenario, impossible. The classic head tilt with an “oh my gosh!” – it’s a textbook reaction that we’ve got an equally textbook response to, every time. I’ve known conceptually that approaching us is basically just as impossible, I guess I just never got the human form of it. The actual impact. I never felt how impossible it is for any of you. Do I say something? Do I not? I want them to know so badly how much I care, but I don’t know how! What if I make her more upset! What if it’s not the right thing to say?! I want to ask this question but I’m not sure if she’s ready to talk? 

It makes so much sense!

Before this, I would’ve never known what to say to someone with cancer. I would’ve totally been the one saying, “you’ve got this!”

Before this, I would’ve never known what to say to someone grieving over a lost child. I’ve experienced grief before. I’ve lost grandparents. I’ve lost friends, family friends, a Hang Time camper that was way too young, a baby brother that was also lost before he got a chance at life. I thought I kind of knew about grief. I figured it was all relatable. Grief is grief is grief, and everyone has lost someone so therefore everyone knows how to approach us! Wrong! There’s nothing relatable. A child? A child because of cancer? A child for their mother? I realize now I wouldn’t have been able to touch that with a ten foot pole. A 100 foot pole really. So I applaud all of you!

After living in a world that has been all consumed by cancer and grief for six months now, you think I’d have great advice on what to say, how to help. Fact is I’m still too entrenched in navigating my own path to do so. So while I can’t do that, I can keep writing. I can keep sharing about what this path means, how this path feels. It changes daily, sometimes by the minute really. Maybe it helps? Maybe it doesn’t, but free therapy, right? At the very least, maybe it’ll spark that book idea of mine. I really do want to write a book! Or an article at the very least. So on that note, I offer you this, our world these days (and of course, it is in bullet form because I’m back at work and the business brain is back in full swing):

  • I’m not afraid to talk about anything we’ve been through. I’m open to any and all questions, from anyone, at any point. I have enough strength (ok maybe it’s experience, not strength) now to deflect when I need too. Truth be told though, more times than not these days, I find myself yearning for acknowledgement. 
  • Sometimes when conversations or days go on and on with no reference or acknowledgement of what we’ve been through, I take it as, “the world has moved on.” It’s not a fair statement at all, I know the world hasn’t moved on. I know we are prayed for daily. I feel that by the fact that I can get out of bed each day with a smile on my face. I can successfully do things like work, work out (walk), etc. and enjoy it because of it. But sometimes it feels that way. It feels like I’m standing on a mountain screaming, and no one hears. Feelings sure rule your ability to think rationally. 
  • The path of beating cancer and the path of grieving for a lost child (and specifically in how we lost Hallie) are two very different paths. They do not run side by side in peace. They butt heads, aggressively. A lot. Beating cancer yield days of immense gratitude, dreams for a future. Yet grieving for a lost child, a child lost how Hallie was lost, are days spent angry, hurt, sad over a future lost. Days in grief are spent finding a way to laugh, but then feeling guilty when you do. Days of beating cancer are spent celebrating everything. Not taking anything for granted, ever. Days of beating cancer are spent in the hope that you found your faith in a whole new way when the odds were against you, while days of grief are spent wanting to know why, doing anything you can to blindly trust His plans.
  • Beating cancer is joyful in theory, but it’s full of a grief of it’s own. The grief of our old lives, our old normal, the carefree life. That’s something we’ll never get back. I believe whole heartedly God has a plan for my life, I believe whole heartedly God knew exactly how he was using Hallie. But I know now that plan for me could be 50 more years, 5 more years, 5 more days. How I think, how I operate, what I think about, how I think about death, how I think about the future, how Kevin and I plan for the future – everything is through a lense of cancer now. There are no guarantees. There are no for sures. There are a million what ifs. There is one day at a time and being grateful for that day. Nothing can be said to fix that or to take that away. And yes, that is true for anyone, but you aren’t aware of it until you go through something like cancer yourself. Frankly, it’s scary sometimes! 
  • The normal life stressors continue, with zero regard for cancer or grief. Work, relationships, chores, bills. Some days the struggles with those are easy to keep in perspective, considering. Other days cancer magnifys them. “We are dealing with this?!” It doesn’t make those problems any less of problems, it doesn’t diminish them at all, it’s just reactions toward them are unpredictable and a lot of times are big.
  • There are days, or moments where we give ourselves permission to build our new normal. We make a decision to laugh. To play a game. To go out to dinner. To watch the Hawks. To go on vacation. It’s a necessary part of healing but it also leads to so many confusing emotions. This is what makes the world feel like you’re ok, when nothing inside feels ok. My faith allows me to know I will get to a place where our new normal will be worth all the trials & tribulations we’ve been through, but that doesn’t make the path to it any easier.
  • Lastly, I’ve learned the emotions are fleeting. They are strong, they hurt, they are incredibly lonely. This journey is so lonely. There is no control over your emotions. But they are fleeting. The times I’ve been at my worst, it hasn’t been a grand gesture that has settled me down. It’s been simple words. It’s a simple of share of something that’s brought comfort to you. It’s someone showing up. It’s been prayers. It’s simply being remembered, or reminded that the battle doesn’t end with the last treatment or after the memorial service.

So wait, I think I did just get to a helpful piece of advice after all! It just hit me with that final bullet point. There is NO right thing to say! Sometimes trying to say the right thing actually yields that total miss people are worried about. I think it’s just about doing, rather than doing right. Sometimes all it needs to be is, “I’m thinking of you.” Sometimes it’s asking the questions you’re dying to know about (yes, I freaking hate that I don’t have my hair. I didn’t know how much until we went to Florida and I have come to hate being told it’s just hair. It’s more than that!! And yes, it’s coming in blonde and I hate that my trademark red hair is still gone, hopefully just for now). Sometimes it’s a hug. Sometimes it’s a glass of wine (or three). Sometimes it’s a long conversation. Sometimes it’s a short one. Sometimes it’s just showing up physically. Sometimes it’s a song (I’ve listened to Held on repeat more times than I can count). Sometimes it’s needing to give me permission to talk about it. Sometimes it’s me giving you permission to talk all you want about it. Sometimes it’s giving advice and sometimes it’s purely listening. Sometimes it’s talking about none of this at all. All is ok, all is needed. All are pieces of the puzzle to healing. 

Who knows if this helps. The sad thing is I’m sure anyone reading this has someone in their life who has recently lost someone or is battling cancer. No paths are the same but I hope that writing about our path helps someone else hurting to be held in the way they need it most. I know how I approach people moving forward has forever been changed!


3 thoughts on “Talking about Grief & Cancer, Easy, Right?!

  1. I think with a little editing, and fill in narrative recounting of the details/realities/special events and interchanges with caretakers and family, grounding sandwiching your blog entries, you have your book which I would wager to be publishable.


  2. We read Bethany and we care deeply–all of us Conrad-DeBroecks. I hope you know somehow how much we care about you, Kevin and little Hallie. One day at a time. We really do care and love you guys and we truly look forward to hearing back from you! Love you dearly.

    Aunt Jeanne and your Cousins, here in Chicago!



  3. I am so appreciative of you letting us all in on this extremely personal and tragic journey. I am so appreciative of how tightly you’ve clung to your faith and how your example has re-ignited my connection with my faith. I am so appreciative you are giving yourself permission to feel and but also to do things for you and kevin to rebuild and re-“normalize” like vacations and dinners out and games and train brews πŸ™‚

    I’m so appreciative to that you beat cancer and continue to remind us how precious you and Hallie are in all of our lives!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s