Looking back over my journey with my late brother Peter as he walked with cancer I am more aware than ever before of a path full of losses, many of which go unnoticed. This lack of acknowledgement leaves these mini-deaths suspended in everyone’s emotional body, building a kind of grief bank account. As deposits are unknowingly made to the grief account we start to fill up and feel overwhelmed by it all. Then when death does arrive the dike holding back the latent grief bursts and all the previous mini-deaths combine with the final death to deeply complicate the grieving process.
It would be wise then, to be aware of these mini-deaths that often occur along the journey from prognosis to death. Being aware will enable each mini-loss to be seen, acknowledged, grieved, and let go of. So let’s take a walk along the path looking at potential mini-losses, listing them, and creating some rituals to acknowledge them each individually.
Prognosis starts the ball rolling with the first two losses –
Once the prognosis has settled in we face a few more mini-losses –
Now, know this list is unique to each person and each health situation so use it as a list or highway signs you could expect to see. It is also not sequential. As the disease progresses the losses begin to mount and they become more evident.
- Home environment
- Capacity and ability
- Physical senses
- Personal say
- Consciousness, and finally
- Life itself
Now that we have a basic list of mini-deaths lets take a look at a few examples of rituals that could be put in place to both recognize the loss and to grieve it.
The loss of lifestyle is a big one; so obvious it is that we often miss it. All those activities we take for granted driving, golfing, dancing, dining out. Many of these disappear when we become ill. One way to help acknowledge this loss is to tell stories about all those things we used to be able to do and really enjoyed doing. A walk down memory lane of activities you loved that you can no longer do. And yes is may bring up sadness or anger at the loss and that is a good thing as the emotional release will allow you to have joyful memories.
If meal times used to be important to you when well, keep them as important when ill. Make a point of finding ways to eat together even if what each of you eat is different, the shared mealtime is an important ritual to maintain.
Like most things around dying, death and loss the awareness of what is real and having conversations, open chats about it is both important and healing. So notice the mini-losses, talk about them and find ways to acknowledge the loss that allows everyone to continue to walk forward without harboring unspoken thoughts and emotions.