Cancer Loss: When Everything, Including Sympathy, Hurts

Cancer is, unfortunately, one of those horrible diseases that affects everyone. If you don’t have someone in your family who has been affected by it, you most likely know someone who has.

When someone succumbs to cancer, especially after a long and drawn-out illness, it can be difficult to know what to say to the loved ones who are left behind. Everyone reacts differently.

My own father passed away from cancer just last week. We knew the time would come some day for a year and a half, and even though he went through treatment after treatment, we knew that the day would come when we’d have to say goodbye.

“My own experience taught me I want no one to take away from my dad’s struggle, I want to protect his memory, and I cannot tolerate people who don’t understand I’ve been grieving long before he passed.”

My father passed at home, with my mother, my husband, and me by his side. Eventually, people began coming in before the funeral home had a chance to take him out. Thankfully, most people let me alone with my dad.

However, a hospice nurse burst in after I had spent two and a half hours alone with my deceased father. She had a smile on her face.

If you are a hospice nurse, it’s probably wise not to throw a beaming smile at a grieving relative of the deceased and try to recall a prior meeting with her. I was a sobbing woman who was holding on to her dead father’s hands to keep them warm. I couldn’t have picked her out of a lineup.

It’s also probably not a good idea for a hospice nurse to joke with the men picking up a body under any circumstances.

In the coming days, several people came to show their support for my mother. However, the emotional toll of having to tell or listen to the same story over and over again about what happened when my dad died became almost unbearable. I almost wanted to print out an official story and have a stack of them by the door for people to collect.

People asking, “Did he suffer?” was a painful question. He went through horrible treatments for at least a year. When someone is struggling to breathe and pleading with you with his eyes in the end, then I think the best educational guess is most likely going to be “yes.”

It is not appropriate, under any circumstances, to say my dad or any other person who has died because of cancer “lost” their battle. My dad and many others were fighters. Doctors gave my dad about a month when he came home and entered hospice care. He lived for three months. Cancer couldn’t live on when he died, so cancer still lost in the end, according to Newton.

In my opinion, it was odd to hear, “He’s better off now.”


He’d be better off without cancer and watching his two favorite little girls growing up. He’d be better off enjoying life with his wife. He’d be better off holding my hand at other peoples’ viewings so I could hide behind him. He’d be better off griping about a politician who annoys him the most, showing off his beloved dog, and taking unnecessary rides out on snow covered roads. He’d be better off unconsumed by a black monster that not only tortured him, but the rest of us as well.

It truly was horrible to see him struggle to live. I understand what people meant when they said, “At least he is with God.” It is for my own selfish reasons that I want my dad. People meant well, and I agreed he should no longer suffer. But I still want my dad.

Everything is going to be painful regarding my dad for awhile. The “c” word makes me wince every time I hear it. I grieve for what will never be. I grieve for what is gone. I grieve for his suffering, but I will always be proud of his fight. I will always be proud of him and what he went through to stay here with us while he could.

Cancer has stolen a piece of me that cannot be replaced, given me a lurking fear for my own family, and has opened my eyes to who I can count on and who isn’t worth the time anymore. But there is another side to his passing that held a rare type of beauty and timelessness that couldn’t be touched by any disease.

“Cancer ended my dad’s life. Cancer did not define him, cancer could not control his core beliefs, and cancer could not control his feelings for his family. In the end, cancer could not touch how we let him go, how I closed his eyes, or how I tucked him in before his casket was closed. It will never destroy the respect and love I have for my dad.”

If you are coping the loss of a loved one due to cancer, the American Cancer Society has some information for you which may help you to learn more about the feelings you are experiencing. You can click here to find out more.

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