INTERVIEW - BRITTANY'S STORY
We regularly interview people who have experienced loss or burnout. Everyone experiences and responds to hardships in different ways, there is no right way or wrong way to grieve or handle stress. We share these stories in hopes that their experiences will support you in your journey – which ever side you are on – working through the process or supporting a loved one. If you are interested in sharing your story, please reach out via our home page.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I live in Missouri, near St Louis, with my wife Angela and our 2 cats D'jango and Katniss, where I work for the federal government. My hobbies include travel (I've been all over Europe and the US), reading (I own almost 1000 books and my goal in life is to have a library like the one in Beauty and the Beast), and a lot of binge-watching on Netflix (the best hobby for winter). I also enjoy photography, especially when I’m traveling. When I'm not traveling, I am dreaming about traveling and am always planning 2 or 3 trips at a time.
Who in your life has passed away? When did this happen? My step-dad, Ron, (who was like my dad) passed away on October 22, 2012, about 5 years ago, of pancreatic cancer. He went into the hospital with pain, but was continuously misdiagnosed. First they took out his gallbladder, then he was diagnosed with diabetes and after that, pancreatitis. Ron lost a lot of weight, going from around 200 pounds to around 120 pounds. His doctor kept putting in stents, apparently not seeing the mass on his pancreas. Finally, after seeing another doctor at a different hospital, they had found the mass. This was in July and Ron died just three months later.
In 3-5 words, describe your life during this time.
> Helpless. With pancreatic cancer there is literally nothing you can do once its caught because most people don't show pain until stage 4 and by then it's too late. I, unfortunately, had lost a great aunt to pancreatic cancer as well, so I knew what was coming.
> I spent a lot of time with my step-dad, mother, and siblings while still working full-time. My wife (girlfriend at the time) worked 2nd shift. I'd get up for work at 4:30a, work a full eight hours and then go to my parents until 9p or 10p, and back at it the next day. I look back and I don't know how I did it or how my siblings did it either (especially my sisters, who have kids).
> Angry. At the doctors for not catching it, for allowing Ron to get so sick and lose so much weight. At the hospice company we went with who took him off all of his diabetic medication, which made him worse and ultimately lead to him dying in the hospital, not at home like he wanted. I held on to that anger for a long time after he died which wasn’t the healthiest way to live.
What helped guide you through the grieving process?
What helped me was having a support system of people who understood. One of my best friends had lost her father a few years prior. She knew what this was like. When Ron first got sick, I told her and a few others that I didn’t want to hear "I'm thinking of you" or "I'm praying for you" or "God has a plan". I wanted to hear that this sucks. I wanted to hear that Ron didn't deserve this cancer, that he didn't deserve this suffering. I wanted to hear cuss words and jokes from my friends and I wanted them to be angry, just like the anger I was feeling. I didn't hold on to that anger for long but it helped in the beginning and when he died. My wife, was also super supportive. She had never lost a parent, but she was always there for me when I was quiet and reserved and not sharing my feelings. But she knew just having her close by was helping.
Distractions also helped. Ron was never far from my mind, but at the time I was planning a 2 week vacation to France and Belgium so just having something to do other than worry myself sick helped me a lot. I was constantly worried about my mom too, taking care of him and not really taking care of herself. It helped knowing that people were helping her when I couldn't, like bringing food or snacks.
Friends were coming over just to hang out and be there. Towards the end, we basically had an open-door policy – my friends, my siblings’ friends, and of course my step-dad and mom’s friends were coming to say good-bye. It was hard, but I know after all was said and done it was appreciated by all of us even if we couldn't convey it very well to them at the time.
What advice would you provide others dealing with loss?
I think this should go without saying, but there is no right way to grieve. When Ron died, I sobbed in the hospital. But by the time the funeral hit, I was numb. I didn't cry at the wake or the funeral. Hundreds showed up and all the shared stories and tears didn't move me at all. I just wasn’t completely there – something was missing. The weeks following the funeral were a blur, I didn’t remember much at the time and I still don’t.
It all hit me almost 2 weeks later. His birthday, the anniversary of his death, Father’s Day-they don't cause me to freak out and cry. It's random times. Listening to The Who or a movie that reminds me of him or just somebody discussing their own relationship with their dad. Don’t feel bad bad if you can't cry right away. Or at all.
Another thing that helped me was writing. I have a blog and a journal. Even if I wasn't writing about him, his life or death, it helped me. Get the emotions out, even if it felt silly.
Not everyone has a good core group of friends or a family they can turn to or a significant other. I really do feel like I grieved alone. My family was so messed up from his death, I couldn't rely on them (and they couldn't rely on me) because we were all so torn up about the loss of Ron. Eventually, I did go to therapy. If you have the resources I highly suggest therapy. Having somebody to talk to is more helpful than a person can imagine.
What advice would you provide those who want to comfort those dealing with loss?
Just be there. And understand that they may not want to talk about it. They may just want you to take them to a movie or hang out and eat bad food or go for a walk. Ask them how they want you to proceed. Should they bring up the loss? Or not? You feel them out and ask them what you can do if anything. It may be something simple-be my gym buddy, laugh at my obnoxious dark humor jokes, drink some wine with me and let me cry on your shoulder.