In ancient maps, the edge of the world, the place beyond which all was lost, was drawn as populated by dragons and other frightening beasts. The implication was clear. Beyond this is unknown. Here lie dragons. I suppose as a species we have always feared the unknown, the dark night, things that go bump, drastic life changes into uncharted territory. And what could be more uncharted than receiving a dire health diagnosis or the day you find yourself alone after a soul mate has transitioned?
As human beings, we generally crave stability. We want to know what is coming even though the future is pretty much unknowable. We want to know what lies beyond the dragons before we take that first step beyond known territory. Throw in something completely unexpected like a death or cancer and we can easily lose our way, turning in confused circles as we search for a familiar direction to go. Grief takes us down a road we never expected. The landscape is unfamiliar and here lie dragons.
Two of my children (both 50 plus) are facing their own dragons today. Both received cancer diagnoses within two weeks of one another. They have started chemotherapy and so are dealing with all the fallout of that. There are physical, financial and emotional issues that come with the treatment. There is worry about what the future holds, how they will go forward after (not if) they survive. But even more significantly, there is the unassailable fact that life as they knew it will never be the same. Just as someone who has lost a soul mate forever sees life as “before they died” and after, so too will my son and my daughter see life as before cancer and after.
I believe grief takes many forms. It does not just claim us after the loss of a beloved person or soul mate. To differing degrees, we mourn the loss of a precious pet, a way of life, sometimes even a habit. Learning to live with this illness is surely, for my children, a form of mourning. Mourning the loss of life as it has always been, of good health, of a sense of immortality that is ours from childhood, but mourning still. As such, I find myself trying to remember the principles we established with From Grief to Peace. I think they apply to grief in any form. I try to remember that what they are experiencing is theirs to experience. Much as I wish I could, I cannot take their treatments for them. I cannot heal for them, either. They must do that in their own way, their own time, just as one heals the grief that comes with death. And there are no rules. I cannot demand they fight. I cannot insist they do this the way I think they should. They must do all of that in ways that work for them. All I can offer is support, comfort and validation of their feelings and what they are experiencing.
As someone who loves them both, I am frightened for them. But theirs is a path into that uncharted territory that they must walk on their own. They are walking with dragons snapping at their heels and breathing fire into their faces. All I can do is enfold them in protective layers of love, then hold my arms out in welcome and pray they can see me waiting there for them at the end of their dark road.
Principles of From Grief to Peace
1. I will allow myself to grieve my soul mate, knowing that this will be hard.
2. I will understand that I have the right to mourn the loss of my soul mate in my own way.
3. I will acknowledge that my grief has no timeline.
4. I will admit that grief has no rules.
5. I will feel comfortable standing up for myself when others put their expectations on me.
6. When I am stronger, I will pay it forward to help others who are mourning the loss of their soul mate.