July 20, 2011

Too early to deal with grief?

The tone in our house has changed, as you can imagine. Certainly, our long term planning has a much shorter time frame and, in most cases, decisions are easier. For example, when we talk about doing something fun or social, we generally decide right away. We want to maximize our enjoyment out of every day, subject to how I feel. Our reading materials have even changed. Much of my dear wife's reading materials are now about grief, looking after yourself when your spouse is ill, etc. It's not all about that, but the books laying around tell the tale. Is it too soon for her to be reading this stuff? I have some time left and hope that its longer than the doctor says, so maybe we're a couple of years away yet (denial or hope again!). Maybe she should wait.....? I don't think so.

I started thinking about death, mortality, and what it meant to me a few years after I was diagnosed and supposedly cured ("You'll be fine. Just fine!"). I did it because I had to. My analytical mind needed some answers and I had to find something to believe in or to hope for. I believe that it was this early start that has helped me deal well with the news of my recurrence, the spread to the bones, and the more recent death countdown. Grief is a multi-stage process and can take a long time, so there's nothing wrong with starting to deal with it a bit earlier.

When these earlier, bad news milestones occurred, both Dianne and I were hit hard and the depression lasted for several months or more. Over time, the impact lessened and we came up for air a bit stronger, if emotionally bruised, and were able to more readily adapt to the changes in our life-style. When the time comes, I don't want Dianne to deal with everything all at once. It's not fair to her and I want to do everything I can to make it as easy as possible. I don't mean that preparation can soften the blow of such a horrible event, but it certainly can shorten the period of emotional paralysis. My advance thinking about my own death has definitely helped me in may ways. Otherwise, I would still be going "Why me?" instead of writing a blog on the subject.

Aside from the emotional impact this will have on her, Dianne (and I) need to be thinking and making decisions about her future - financial, social, home planning, family, who will be there for her, etc. We've already made great strides in this area. The fact that we are both talking and reading, allows her to think about these kind of things with a clear head, to talk to me and to her friends about really important things, and to explore the complexity of her emotions. And even to deal with some of these emotions in advance.

Dianne is one heck of a strong woman and has the capacity to be very independent, so I have no doubt she will be okay after a while. Talking, reading and planning ahead will give her the time and space to grieve and be the emotional basket case she will need, without worrying about everything else. Supporting her in this and talking with her openly about everything is the greatest gift I can give her right now.

I consider ourselves lucky to have the time to prepare. Many people don't. There is a message in here as well for anyone with a child, spouse, parent or other loved one with a terminal diagnosis. First of all, don't ever hide this news from the person who is dying. They need to deal with things too. In fact, I think it's downright cruel to hold this knowledge back thinking that its better for them not to know (it still happens; less so now, thankfully). Secondly, you need time too - to plan, to absorb, to process. And you need to talk about it openly rather than tiptoe around the huge elephant in the room. We're all going to die some day, so if you have the time, it's the only fair thing to do.

It's probably the most important gift of love for both of you.

2 comments:

wellspouse said...

Wishing you peace, and strength, Doug...

For Dianne:

Wanted to let you know of the existence of the Well Spouse™ Association, a 501(c)(3) non-profit group offering peer emotional support to husbands, wives or partners of people with _any_ chronic illness and/or disability.

wellspouse said...

Well Spouse... http://wellspouse.org