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What I Learned About Loss And Grief After Losing My Dad To Cancer

I just finished watching a 31 second iPhone video I took of our family singing Happy Birthday to Dad. In the video, my dad is sitting behind his ice cream cake, decorated with a seven and one candle, to signify his seventy-first birthday. He’s half smiling and wearing a new gray cardigan my sister gave him.

Just forty-one days after this video was taken, my father breathed his last at home. As I sit here writing this, tears are streaming down my face, almost completely blurring my vision. There is a painful lump in my throat, and I am having difficulty breathing.

Pink iris flower
Iris: My father’s favorite flower.

My father passed away after a heroic fifteen-month battle against stage four esophageal cancer. Hell was. I can sum up the past year and a half of my life in one word: painful. Watching someone you love slowly die of a terrible disease and not being able to do anything about it is heartbreaking. It is against our nature as human beings. We want to fix it. We can’t.

Losing my father to cancer has completely changed me. Sadness is a journey I am still traveling on. I wanted to share what I learned from this experience, and hopefully help someone else who may be on this journey as well.

Decoration hints prints

You begin to grieve long before a person dies.

Fifteen months ago, my father underwent a routine endoscopy to investigate minor health problems. By that point, he had lost a significant amount of weight, which he attributed to diet and exercise. But we weren’t really worried.

My father was a very healthy man. He never smoked, and he didn’t really drink. He was an avid outdoorsman and incredibly smart. He has kept himself active, both physically and mentally.

I can still hear his voice on that phone call as if it was yesterday, stage 4 esophageal cancer with inoperable tumors. He said, “I’m really in trouble, Karen.” Who knows? Heartburn can cause cancer. I was totally down to earth.

And that’s when I started grieving. My world collapsed into a small ball under my feet. I felt sad, angry and out of control. As if it was slipping through my fingers and I couldn’t stop it. This type of grief is called anticipatory grief.

This does not mean that you have no hope in the person, but it is a way to prepare yourself for change. Allow yourself the space to feel these early feelings.

Be posted to listen.

At first, I felt I had to always keep my father away from the giant elephant in the room. I did my best to talk about anything and everything else and wiped my tears when he wasn’t looking. It was very painful to admit what was happening.

What I learned about loss and grief after losing my father to cancer

What I didn’t realize was that Assist My dad to talk about it. He needed to express his feelings, and I needed to listen. It was therapeutic for him and therapeutic for me. Those conversations led to many deep conversations with him for which I am forever grateful. It’s a terrible situation, and it’s okay to admit it. Follow their lead. Don’t give empty reassurances. Be heard. Be supportive. Be sympathetic.

Say the important things you want to say often and early on.

When someone becomes terminally ill, you never know how much time you will spend with that person. You will look back on the humble days and realize those were the good ol’ days.

I knew I wanted to finish one last woodworking project with my dad, and I’m so glad we took the time to do it together.

When my father became sick and weak, he just wanted to sleep. And when he was awake, he wasn’t feeling well. Our conversations became shorter, and the distance between them became longer.

Set aside time ahead of time to say what you want to say while they are around. Visit them often. Hold their hand. laugh with them. Memories to cherish. say I love you. Say thanks. be present. you will not regret it.

You may have to tell them it’s okay to let it go.

Sometimes our loved ones hold on because they worry about us. They may suffer from pain for longer than they should. Maybe they keep fighting because they don’t want us to think they’re giving up. And we don’t want to give them up either.

My father fought hard until the very end. He endured many treatments. He never wanted a foster home, and we respected that. Although the doctors told us there was no cure, we never took away his hope. And this is very important to do for your loved one.

When you came to visit me, before I even had a chance to say hello, he would hold my hand with tears in his eyes and say, “Take care of your mother.”

I did my best to reassure him that we would be fine. That mom will be fine and we will always take care of each other. I think he needed to hear that. Letting them go is the hardest thing to do, but you do it because you love them and you don’t want them to suffer anymore.

You may feel numb after they are dead.

When my father died, it felt like a piece of me had died, too. Stepping into my childhood home in the days leading up to my father’s funeral was surreal. His shoes were still sitting at the front door. His favorite jacket still hangs from the coat rack he made a decade ago at the entrance. I was looking at the door and thought he would come through any moment. It was strange being there without him.

Sometimes I feel like a zombie walking around in a thick fog. Sadness incredibly exhausts the brain, and there is no room for anything else. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t feel anything at first. it’s normal.

Your grief will attack you when you least expect it.

I remember melting down in the dairy section of the grocery store of all places. I saw an old man slowly drive his cart full of Diet Coke and TV dinners to the fridge for milk. why did you cry? Because at that very moment I realized that my father would never be an old man. I felt wronged. And this is very sad.

Then there was the time I randomly lost it after dropping my daughter off to gymnastics training. I had to stop because crying became dangerous to drive. It was Tuesday.

I like to call these strange moments of uncontrollable sadness “melancholy attacks.” They seem to come out of nowhere, and they hit you. Redness of the face – shortness of breath – swollen eyes – falling out of the mascara of the greasy type.

And of course I still feel sad at the expected moments. I still hear my voice trembling when I talk to my friends about my condition. I still feel my eyes fill with tears when something reminds me of my father.

You will not go crazy. you are sad. Acknowledge your grief. Don’t try to hold it or be strong. You cannot ignore it and make it disappear. release him. Even if you are at the grocery store.

There is no right or wrong way to feel; Feelings are just that.

There are those infamous five stages of grief; I am sure you have heard of them. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. But what some people do not know is that these stages came after a long study of deathnot the living who are left dealing with the loss.

As humans, it is natural for us to want to group our grief in a slightly tidy fashion. I remember having these inner conversations: Well, I feel depressed. I must be depressed.

But it doesn’t work that way. You will feel all of these feelings more than once, in random order, or not at all – and all is well. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.

Feelings are just that. Be kind to yourself.

Your relationship with them is not over yet; He just changed.

To think that death is the end – and it’s a closed book – is very painful. But what if we turn it around and think we’re in another chapter? The relationship is still here, it’s completely different. You still love this person and the love never ends.

Someone said to me at my father’s funeral, “Now more than ever, your father will be with you.” And I found much comfort in this statement.

yellow butterfly

And I still talk to my dad every day. Sometimes I tell jokes with him. Sometimes I cry and tell him how much I miss him. Regardless of your beliefs, whether or not you believe in an afterlife, you can still involve this person in your life in some way. not finished yet. He just changed.

People will say wrong things to you.

Death is a taboo topic in our society. Most of us don’t know how to respond to it, although we will all encounter it at some point. People will say wrong things to you. And it’s okay.

Remember that most people mean well, even if it isn’t that way. Don’t be afraid to communicate what you need and don’t need during your grief journey.

Here are some helpful and some not so helpful things you can say to someone who is grieving.

  • Helpful: I am so sorry for your loss.
  • Helpful: I just delivered dinner/takeaway/groceries.
  • Helpful: My heart breaks for you.
  • Helpful: Know we’re thinking of you.
  • Useful: We will miss them very much.
  • Useful: Share a fun memory.
  • Helpful: If you want to talk, I’m here for you.
  • Unhelpful: It was just their time.
  • Unhelpful: He might still be here if he went to Hospital/Doctor X instead.
  • Not Helpful: Try to keep busy.
  • Unhelpful: Death is part of life.
  • Not helpful: So-and-so also has cancer and his condition is not good.
  • Unhelpful: They don’t want you to cry.
  • Unhelpful: *nothing at all*

Healing will happen, but there will always be a scar.

You never move on from losing. You learn to live with it.

“Sorrow is like a scab,” said my dear friend. “You will pick it up now and then for the rest of your life. And sometimes it will bleed. Eventually, the scab will reappear, but it will never completely heal.”

Watery heart

For now, I’m dealing with things day in and day out and giving myself mental space to breathe and find the new normal without my parents. Here are some things that help me through:

  • memoirs.
  • Talk to mom and plan visits with her. Hearing her voice helps me stay present.
  • Hiking (putting one foot in front of the other feels like progression). I feel incredibly connected to my dad when I’m outside, in nature and around birds and animals. I feel him there, like he’s walking beside me. My dad was an ardent nature lover all along. It was very therapeutic for me.
  • Gardens. The morning my father passed away, I went out into our garden and a beautiful yellow butterfly appeared among the plants. It flew around for a while and then fluttered away. It was close enough for me to really notice it was there. These little moments bring me so much joy.
  • Hanging out with good friends who make you laugh and make you cry ugly.
  • Photography. Any hobby that brings you joy is especially healing now.
  • Take a long hot bath.
  • Read my favorite books. Even though I don’t have much energy for blogging, I still read my favorite decorating books and magazines behind the scenes. I will be back sooner rather than later.
  • Cleaning and organizing. I know I’m not the only one on this planet who finds cleaning fun.
  • Finding ways to honor my parents. Although I would like to do a wood project, it still hurts too much. So now I’m focusing on other things until I find the strength to pick up the saw again. I have a bunch of pictures of him that I’m going to put in a frame. I want to plant a tree in his honor. I might also paint the wooden sparrow box he made for me several months before his death.

Grief forces you to see life through a different lens. It puts everything in perspective, and you don’t take anything for granted. Losing my father made me want to be a better person and live as he did.

If you’re on a grieving journey, give yourself the time and space you need to grieve in your own way, however convenient it is for you. Don’t be afraid to contact a grief counselor, too. Sometimes this is exactly what we need.



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