Sunday, April 22, 2012

Reflective Essay : coping with bereavment

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Reflective Essay Coping With Bereavement

Death. It was never really an issue that I had to face in my family until recently. Okay, well apart from a few beloved childhood pets but it’s not the same. I still have both sets of grandparents and many great aunts and uncles. I’m even blessed still to have my great granny whose fighting fit and approaching her ninety- sixth birthday next month. Death. It’s such a horrible part of life, don’t you think? It’s what took Sam away from us. A dad of two, only in his mid forties, still in the prime of his life. He was forty-five when he “passed on”. Forty-five. That’s not old. It wouldn’t have been so hard to face if it was some “poor wrinkly old buddy,” lying bed ridden for years upon end. But it wasn’t, it was our Sam. Sam � my dad’s best friend and also my best friend’s dad. I realise that everyone must die some day and nobody can live forever but it wasn’t his turn. Not yet.

It was that dreaded “mass murderer” who killed him. The killer who claims millions of lives per year. You may have heard of him � he goes by the name of … Cancer. It started off as what was believed to be a bug but progressed and evolved into that treacherous disease that took his life.

Isn’t it sad how some people could foolishly choose to abuse their bodies, inflicting disease on themselves with alcohol, cigarettes and drugs when others have no choice at all. This was the case with Sam. He was an enthusiastic footballer and keen golfer who didn’t smoke or drink alcohol and yet, fate’s path led him down that ever-fearful road the road of no return. This has changed my perception of justice in the world. Before, I thought that if someone took care of themselves by eating healthy and taking exercise they would naturally live longer. Now, however, I have realised that it doesn’t make a difference.

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I’ll never forget my dad’s phone call telling me that Sam had been diagnosed with cancer and that he only had a few more months left to live. I tried to hold back the tears, but failed. There are no words to describe how I felt. I couldn’t accept what he was telling me. I kept saying to myself that it wasn’t true and that he’d get better. He couldn’t die. He’s far too young. He’s the same age as my dad. I went straight to my bed but couldn’t sleep. The word “CANCER” kept swirling round and around inside my head like water in a bath just before it’s about to go down the plughole.

My heart went out to Lisa. It still does every day. The agony that she must have been facing when she found out seems unbearable. She had to watch her dad being sick all the time and see him slipping further and further away before her very eyes. Even if Sam wanted to spend a day with his children there had to be someone there to help with simple everyday tasks such as cooking because he was unable.

He received chemotherapy and would take any drug or antidote the doctors suggested in the hope that it might cure him. Unfortunately, months went by and he continued to look grey and drawn. He completely lost his appetite and this resulted in him growing frightfully thin. Whenever I saw a charity box for cancer research I always made a point of giving any spare change. I wanted to help in any way I could. Good health must be one of the very few things in life that money just can’t buy. I’m sure that he’d have traded a million lottery jackpot wins for him to recover. We all felt so useless. All we could do was wait.

What was happening to Sam pulled me closer to my own dad and made me appreciate him more than ever before. I made an effort to see him every weekend instead of what used to be once a fortnight. Whenever I was going away I always made sure that I said goodbye to him. You must always say goodbye, “just in case.” I couldn’t help thinking what if it was my dad in Sam’s shoes? It could just as well have been. They are both of similar age, both have two children aged fifteen and thirteen at the time, separated from their wives and living alone, they share the same hobbies… The list is endless. Sam did nothing bad to deserve it.

As December was drawing near the glimmer of hope that I held deep down inside my heart that he’d get better began to fade. The morning of the 6th 00 was the day he died. My dad’s bleary eyed, puffy face greeted me home from school that day. I knew immediately by his expression that Sam had gone. I needed to sit down, as my legs were no longer able to support my weight. I felt physically sick. It was as if someone had kicked me in the stomach and taken the wind out of my sails. My heart ached. It ached mostly for Lisa, but also for my dad. I can’t imagine how Lisa felt. I thought I was as worked up as anyone could ever be but she must have been a million times worse. I phoned Lisa but I was unable to talk. I had no words. Nothing could describe how I felt for her. The words “I’m sorry” managed to escape my tightly closed lips. I heard her burst into tears before she hung up the phone. It was maybe too soon for her to talk. I realise this now. I just wanted her to know I was there for her and she could pick up the phone and speak to me at any time. Sometimes it’s nice to talk to someone outside your own family. It lets you escape from it all for a while. This whole experience has taught me that I must choose my words carefully and be more tactful when speaking to a bereaved family. I must also be prepared to listen a lot more because I have learned they like to reminisce about times they shared in the past, good times and bad.

The funeral was by far the worst bit for me. I’d never been to one before. I hate them. It’s not until you see the coffin that it actually dawns on you that he’s not coming back. It was awful. I don’t think I even said goodbye to him the last time I saw him. Normally I love singing hymns at weddings and christenings but I couldn’t do it. I looked over towards Lisa and she caught my eye. My throat seized up again. I could hardly see the words in the book through my tears never mind force a sound out. As I looked around, I saw everyone who meant something to Sam. All there to pay their respect. It was so sad. Far too sad in fact.

I couldn’t get out fast enough. I caught a glimpse of Lisa in the back of her auntie’s car, tears streaming down her cheeks. I fought back my tears to give her a little wave. I wanted to run up and give her a big hug and tell her “everything will get better” but on that day, it seemed a silly thing to say. Going to the cemetery would have been too upsetting for me so I went straight home.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the verb to die means “to stop living”. If this is the case then I believe that Sam is not really “dead”. Yes, of course his body is no longer here but his spirit definitely still is. Personally, I think that when you pass over your spirit remains and watches over the loved ones you have left behind. Writing this made me realise how much I missed his smile and the cheeky little wink as he walked by. He really was a great man. Always so full of life. Even in his last weeks his distinctive passion for life and optimism didn’t differ. I must admit, I have never actually been to visit his grave and I am very ashamed of that. I owe it to him to do so but I’ve just been too frightened. I think it is important to visit the grave as a mark of respect and remembrance. It shows that even though he died, I haven’t forgotten about him. It probably would clarify to me that I would never see him again and that his body is actually buried underneath the grave stone.

Losing someone special made me realise that I should really appreciate my family and friends and that I should regularly tell them how much they mean to me. People don’t realise just how lucky they are to wake up in the morning with no aches and pains. Life really is so short and you should never take it for granted. You never know what’s just around the corner…

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