There is a particular loneliness that comes when a cancer survivor mourns the loss of someone who has died from cancer. But today, I’ve talked with a few folx who are also feeling the solitary state of mourning, a sadness specific to the lockdown lives we are currently living.
Like many others, I’ve struggled with survivor guilt; it makes you itch all over and it overwhelms you, making you feel as there is not enough oxygen in the room. There is a place in the shadows where we survivors slip when this happens. It is a cool, dark, plum-colored silhouette into which we melt and wait.
We wait there for someone to ask for advice, to need a shoulder to cry on, to require someone to vent to. We are patient. Survivors are often asked to help – in the early days. We’re asked to translate doctors’ and nurses’ visits when a friend has been recently diagnosed and is managing the thoughts of the news and the fear and the next steps.
But eventually we aren’t a comfort. So we stay quiet. Because our voices don’t have the same weight anymore. A body going through chemo can’t help it; they will look at you with a film (of annoyance at the least, thinly veiled anger at most) because you have already come out the other side. You lived.
Kind souls never say it, but everyone thinks it. Why this one? Instead of another? It’s the unspoken How Dare You that makes a survivor retreat back into our safe purple shadow again. And we can stay there for days, bitches.
There in the shadows, we can stay and hide from the expectations that the world wants from us. The cultural script survivors are supposed to follow. The world wants me to put on a smile and march down to the nearest Komen Pink 5K.
I don’t want to. You can’t make me.
Today I am mourning the loss of a friend who died from cancer. We were not particularly close. She was a sweet and soft soul; she was thoughtful and inspirational, always looking for ways to see beauty in the world. So (as you can surmise) we had little in common.
She was by all accounts an amazing person, and the list of adjectives used to remember her with love and affection is long and wondrous.
And as I mourn this sweet soul, there is that omnipresent accusatory murmur at the base of my skull – the one that says How Dare You.
Well that voice can fuck right off.
If living through the shittiest parts of life has taught me anything, it’s that there is no right or wrong way to mourn a loss. We need space to do it, and we need to do it in a variety of ways. Whatever you feel when you’ve lost someone, own it; you are entitled to feel it. You need to cry? Scream? Run? Call someone? Take a long lunch and a long walk? Do it.
I’m not saying that referring to your husband’s balls at his funeral should be the new trend in memorials, but funerals are for the living. And we don’t always do a smart and proper job of it. And how to mourn someone in time of pandemic? When social distancing keeps us from holding the very people who need most to be held?
We put light into the world in honor of the light it has lost.
We do what humans do best. We improvise.
We will have time to gather and mourn in groups again, but for now, we send love through 5G. We call and text people we’ve not spoken to in years and we share stories of love and laughter. We reconnect with folx long out of touch but never out of our hearts. We create paintings, compose songs, and plant flowers inspired by the love we feel for someone who won’t get to experience them. We write words into blogs that we would most likely never share otherwise.
We reach out. Out of the shadows, no matter what created them, and we make ourselves available to mourn with our friends.
KEEP CALM & BE KIND
Your Derelict Debutante