Suffocating Sympathy

Three and a half years ago, my Grandma was diagnosed with Mantel Cell Lymphoma. This is one of the rarest forms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas. There are only about 15,000 people in the United States afflicted with this disease.

I remember getting called out into the hospital hallway with my mother. The doctor was very blunt: she had 4-6 months left to live. Grandma then began to see an oncologist regularly and made the bold decision to have chemotherapy.

We were all expecting the worst. From what we had heard from the media, chemotherapy was a horrible, almost unbearable treatment that would transform my Grandma into a frail, bald woman. We stayed with her during her very first treatment. She received the chemotherapy through an i.v.

Where was the radiation chamber that was always shown on the cancer treatment center commercials? Where was the doctor and team of nurses that should be huddled around her? Grandma’s chemotherapy was nothing like what we had expected. She handled her first treatment like a champ. Her only complaint was that she felt cold, which is very common for the type of treatment she received.

Much to our surprise, Grandma still looked like Grandma. All of her beautiful gray hair remained firmly on her head. And her strong spirit was very much evident. A fighter through and through.

At 91 years old, Grandma was still living at home by herself. She had a visiting nurse that would come to her house three times a week. The woman would cook, clean, go shopping, whatever Grandma needed. But in July of this year, Grandma fell in her bathroom a week after receiving her sixth chemo treatment. Luckily, she hadn’t hit her head or broken any bones.

She was taken to the hospital where it was discovered that she had renal failure. Her heart condition was also flaring up AND she developed tumor lysis syndrome. The oncologist stated that attempting to do any more treatments would be dangerous given her multiple health issues.

Without the chemo, Grandma quickly came out of remission. The cancer was back and more aggressive than ever. My mother called me on October 8th to tell me that Grandma was being placed in Hospice care at the nursing home she had been staying at.

On our way to meet with the Hospice nurse, my mom received another call. All of Grandma’s doctors decided that she would remain at the hospital for in-patient Hospice. We had no idea what that meant at the time, but we knew it couldn’t be good. That is when we learned that instead of having 4-6 months left, she only had 3-5 days.

Grandma continued to fight and made it up to day five. I personally think that she hung on just to spite the one particularly nasty Hospice nurse who said she would not be around by day 3. Grandma never was one to be told what to do.

On October 13th, Grandma went to be with Grandpa in heaven. I know that God has deemed her His spunkiest angel.

My family and I received a huge outpouring of sympathy and support. Facebook exploded after I posted that Grandma had passed. Our neighbor even baked us cinnamon rolls and a loaf of bread!

But, I have learned that there are certain “expectations” that come along with the grieving process. Specifically the “meltdown.” Everyone continues to ask me and my mother how we are. Mom’s response has been “fine” and mine is “okay.” While I certainly understand the intent of the question, it tends to get a bit ridiculous after a while.

What I would really like to say is: “I am horrible. I still cannot believe that my Grandma is no longer going to be a part of my life. Some days, it even hurts to breath. I really would like to just stay at home with my fur babies and ignore the world entirely.”

What I cannot understand is why a majority of people are still watching me and my mom to see if we are going to “blow.” And how they are acting like it is totally strange that we haven’t yet. My mom and I are very similar in how we grieve. We are not going to be giving anyone a public “show.”

There will be no crying jags or shouting outbursts. Nor will we become quiet and withdrawn. We both know that we have jobs that we need to do. Responsibilities to uphold. Grandma would want us to carry on because she knows that no one will ever forget her. We just take it one day at a time.

This does not mean that we are not constantly hurting. Or that we do not care. Our silence is not an indication that we are gold diggers nor secret serial killers. No amount of waterworks or screaming will bring Grandma back to us. Hating the world and everyone in it will not change the fact that she is gone.

One of the attributes that Grandma always loved about me is my positive attitude. To become a hermit or a hater would only disappoint her. Instead, I choose to honor her memory by remaining a ray of light in a darkened room.

When we lose someone we love, we should not stop loving. Everyone, animals included, needs love. It is the most powerful force in this world.

While love can help to heal a broken heart, one cannot tell a heart when it has been mended. Grieving is a natural process that is different for each individual. We should respect each other’s process and cast off our preconceived notions about what is “normal.”


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