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The Shift We Need: Embracing Discussions on Illness and Loss




I’m writing this post in mid-July, just a couple of weeks after announcing the opening of Comforting Closure. Many friends and acquaintances have reached out to me, sharing their experiences with sick or dying loved ones. Thank you for trusting me with your thoughts and feelings. Regardless of where we are in life, most of us will support someone who becomes ill and needs help. Our lives get upended as responsibilities increase. Priorities shift, and we find gratitude in the small things that make up our day-to-day lives.

Personally, this shift occurred when I received a call from my doctor at 4 pm on a Friday afternoon. I had undergone exploratory surgery, and they had discovered a carcinoid tumor on my appendix. They removed my appendix, but concerns arose about my liver. "We've made an appointment for you with Dr. So-and-so. Don't worry; he specializes in this type of cancer."

"Don't worry"... alright. That evening, I shared the call with my husband, Oren. "Don't worry"... I conveyed the message. And... Oren wasn't worried. Within minutes of resting his head on the pillow, he began snoring.

Lying there, I thought to myself... wow, a year from now, I might not be here to listen to Oren snore. That thought saddened me.

I wasn't afraid of dying. I wasn't scared of the necessary procedures (although I wasn't exactly looking forward to them either). The sadness stemmed from the potential loss—the prospect of not waking up next to Oren, not laughing at his dad jokes, or enjoying apple cinnamon oatmeal for breakfast during our camping trips. It meant not hiking up Mission Peak together (and thank you, Oren, for not mocking me when I cried the first time we climbed it).

Fortunately, everything turned out fine—the initial tumor was localized, and I only needed to undergo testing every six months for about five years. However, I can still vividly recall the sadness that enveloped me, fearing what I might lose.

And that sadness resurfaces when I work with families experiencing their own versions of grief. The pain in their eyes tells their stories—the stories of what they're losing. I bear witness to the profound mindfulness of their day-to-day interactions with one another.

I understand that it might seem as if I'm glorifying the situation, making it sound like some kind of spiritual awakening. There's nothing heroic about it... It's an acknowledgement of harsh realities, complemented by coping strategies. Death is difficult, and grief is challenging. While I assist families in making the remaining time of the dying as meaningful as possible, I often ponder why our society isn't open to having discussions and making plans for such situations. Now that would be a shift.

By acknowledging the fragility of life and openly embracing conversations surrounding illness, death, and grief, we have the opportunity to profoundly impact our own lives and the lives of those we care about. It requires a shift in our collective mindset—a willingness to confront uncomfortable truths and prioritize what truly matters. Engaging in these discussions is not morbid; it's an acknowledgment of our shared humanity and an expression of compassion.

Imagine a society where we are unafraid to have these conversations, where we plan for the inevitable with grace and empathy. Can we challenge the taboos, and foster a culture that supports and uplifts one another during these times? I’d like to think so. Let's make that shift together and create a world where these essential discussions are welcomed and valued—a world where we can navigate the challenging journey of life and death with compassion, understanding, and genuine connection.

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