How does someone grieve?

Cancer survivors can help their loved ones cope with grief.

It is the anniversary of Pastor Tim’s death and the interim pastor, Pastor Don, led a sermon about grief. Pastor Tim was my next-door neighbor and previous owner of my dog, Riley. How does someone teach about grief? As I am trying to cope with my grief about the loss of my own life, I also feel I must help my husband, adult children, friends and family members survive the loss of me.

I believe the best way for people to cope with grief is to just go through it. We tend to learn as we go. Every loss is unique and impacts us differently because there is no “correct way” to deal with grief.

As if God was testing me, a few days ago my wonderful dog, Riley, quite unexpectedly and without explanation, developed liver failure and sepsis and we had to decide if it was time to let her go.

The most painful part of this process was that my husband and I approached the decision from two very opposite points of view and I was afraid of how this would impact our relationship as we approached my death. I decided to share this concern with the vet in charge of Riley’s care and that was a wise decision. The vet was able to skillfully help us navigate our points of view and move to approach the decision from the same side. Giving us permission to have two beliefs and to support both, as well as tweaking the COVID rule, she allowed us to see and hold Riley. When we held her, it was clear to the three of us that she was already gone. We needed to make the decision that respected Riley and choose what was best for her. My looming death did make this much harder, but also very clear. It wasn’t just about losing a much-loved dog, it reflected my loss.

In a family, each person has different needs at different times. Sometimes we need to cry. Sometimes we can’t talk about it. Sometimes we have to obsess about it. If you need to do it, feel it—it’s okay. (Okay, buying a drum set for my boys after my Mom died, was probably a pretty dumb idea.)

I look so healthy most of the time, I feel the need to remind my husband and children that I may go as quickly as Riley. Losing Riley allowed us to talk about what it will feel like when I go. We had already been talking about the plans for my funeral, yet, my husband began to panic about how to organize my funeral so we created a funeral folder with ideas and suggestions. There isn’t always much time to prepare for a funeral, but I have found it calming to both of us to help make some plans. 

Please wear brightly colored clothes to my funeral. My husband and kids aren’t black-suited-type-people, so casual, brightly colored clothes will help them think of flowers and me in my garden—more our style. I want to be cremated, and my husband wants my urn buried with him. However, if someone wants to gather a small container of ashes to sprinkle in Door County, you can have at it. It’s your funeral too.

Do what you need to do to say goodbye, and if you need to talk to me, you already know what I will say, so you will hear me if you get quiet and listen. My voice will be there for you. I will be there. 

Cry when you want. Yell when you need to. Talk about me. Don’t talk about me. Forget about me for a day; that will happen. That’s okay. I felt like I was losing my Mom again when I didn’t think about her for a day. Follow how children grieve. They let go a little bit more each day and move back to living their lives and playing. That’s fine. You are alive. Be alive. 

I will be happy to be gone. It’s painful and exhausting to be alive. I will be relieved when I go. Yes, it’s true, I won’t be in pain anymore. 

The glory in grieving is that there’s no right or wrong way. There’s just your way. However, perhaps.…don’t buy a drum set.

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This is my blog about living my life with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer—End stage. I joked about writing this imaginary blog when I spent a year on a treatment that allowed me only 10 days to feel well enough to live a fairly normal life. (Actually normal doesn’t even really exist for me anymore!) To earn those good days, I spent the previous 10 days living in post-chemo treatment physical hell – that also became normal in a perverse way. I’m also writing to honor those who are diagnosed with Stage Four Pancreatic Cancer. You might live longer than you expect and I want you to have someone who tells you what that’s like. There aren’t many role models for people with this because, well, they’re usually gone. So, this is for you. Maybe your journey will be similar to mine. Actually, it will probably be very different because “everyone is different.” Even still, maybe this will still be a bit of a guide.

9 thoughts on “How does someone grieve?”

  1. Oh Kathy! You speak so many truths in this latest post. (And true to your writing/verbal ability, you do it so eloquently.). Thank you for helping us understand grief, specially, how to approach our own grief over your death. Your honesty, while it made me cry a little, shows how much you love. Thank you, my friend. Love you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Buy a drum set. We loved that thing! Thanks, mom, for being such a cool parent and getting us a drum set, trampoline, house with a jungle gym and custom “Fort Knoll” nameplate.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kathy, I am so sorry to hear about the loss of Riley! It sounds like he has been a great companion for you recently and I am sure he will be so missed. He will be waiting on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge to greet you with a doggy smile and much, pain free, joy for you both.

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  4. I just want you to know how much I enjoy reading your posts. You are so wise! Thank you for sharing it with all of us so eloquently. I’m so sorry about Riley. He will be waiting for you! I also want you to know that I will never forget your kindness towards Chandler when she lived in Milwaukee. I am so grateful that she had family close by while she was there. My North Carolina girl only lasted a year in that northern cold and snow!😜 With Hope

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  5. Kathy , I’m so sorry to hear about your dog Riley . That’s not what you needed at this time but in someway you found a lesson in it. Life is full of lessons and we never stop learning… Thanks for your insight. Love , Dawn

    On Tue, May 11, 2021 at 11:52 AM Living My Life in 10 Days! ⛱ wrote:

    > kbraier posted: ” Cancer survivors can help their loved ones cope with > grief. It is the anniversary of Pastor Tim’s death and the interim pastor, > Pastor Don, led a sermon about grief. Pastor Tim was my next-door neighbor > and previous owner of my dog, Riley. How doe” >

    Liked by 1 person

  6. As typical, your words are eloquent, honest and so full of your love. Riley came into your lives exactly when needed and perhaps left this life once again exactly when needed – to allow you and us to repair, speak truths and not be afraid of the sorrow we will feel when you are gone. As I have had my life tested and been given a second life chance, I am grateful every day for you in my life and the love you give.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Kathy, Kathy…
    What an amazing post. Your words are so vivid and clear, real-life, and matter-of-fact. You have a way of airing out and opening the windows to let fresh air in. The subject is painful and real, but you deal with it to help us all. We are sad for you and Bill in the loss of your little Riley… but how wonderful and classic that you turned it into a teaching moment to help all of us who care so much about you. Thank you for your clear words of wisdom. You are amazing indeed. Sending loads of love and prayers. ❤️ ❤️ 🙏🏼 🙏🏼 Mary and Avery


  8. Thank you for this thoughtful reflection. You so generously share what you are learning to benefit the rest of us.

    Lots of love, dear Kathy!


  9. I always learn something about living with a terminal illness and grief with every post. Most of us can not think about or speak out loud these thoughts but you do so as part of natural conversation. Sometimes I think your writing is so beautiful that it could easily be made into a new book on death and dying. I get comfort from knowing you still find ways to find joy (like riding a moped!). You continue to inspire and awe me and I cherish our friendship. Sending you love & hugs.


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