It is the anniversary of Pastor Tim’s death and the interim pastor, Pastor Don, led a sermon about grief. Pastor Tim was my next-door neighbor and previous owner of my dog, Riley. How does someone teach about grief? As I am trying to cope with my grief about the loss of my own life, I also feel I must help my husband, adult children, friends and family members survive the loss of me.

I believe the best way for people to cope with grief is to just go through it. We tend to learn as we go. Every loss is unique and impacts us differently because there is no “correct way” to deal with grief.

As if God was testing me, a few days ago my wonderful dog, Riley, quite unexpectedly and without explanation, developed liver failure and sepsis and we had to decide if it was time to let her go.

The most painful part of this process was that my husband and I approached the decision from two very opposite points of view, and I was afraid of how this would impact our relationship as we approached my death. I decided to share this concern with the vet in charge of Riley’s care and that was a wise decision. The vet was able to skillfully help us navigate our points of view and move to approach the decision from the same side. Giving us permission to have two beliefs and to support both, as well as tweaking the COVID rule, she allowed us to see and hold Riley. When we held her, it was clear to the three of us that she was already gone. We needed to make the decision that respected Riley and choose what was best for her. My looming death did make this much harder, but also very clear. It wasn’t just about losing a much-loved dog, it reflected my loss.

In a family, each person has different needs at different times. Sometimes we need to cry. Sometimes we can’t talk about things. Sometimes we have to obsess about it. If you need to do it, feel it — it’s okay. (Okay, buying a drum set for my boys after my mom died was probably a dumb idea.)

I look so healthy most of the time, I felt the need to remind my husband and children that I may go as quickly as Riley. Losing Riley allowed us to talk about what it will feel like when I go. We had already been talking about the plans for my funeral, yet my husband began to panic about how to organize my funeral, so we created a funeral folder with ideas and suggestions. There isn’t always much time to prepare for a funeral, but we have found it calming to both of us to help make some plans.

We decided things like…please wear brightly colored clothes to my funeral. My husband and kids aren’t black-suited-type-people, so casual, brightly colored clothes will help them think of flowers and me in my garden—more our style. I want to be cremated, and my husband wants my urn buried with him. However, if someone wants to gather a small container of ashes to sprinkle in Door County, you can have at it. It’s your funeral too.

Do what you need to do to say goodbye, and if you need to talk to me, you already know what I will say, so you will hear me if you get quiet and listen. My voice will be there for you. I will be there.

Cry when you want. Yell when you need to. Talk about me. Don’t talk about me. Forget about me for a day; that will happen. That’s okay. I felt like I was losing my mom again when I didn’t think about her for a day. Follow how children grieve. They let go a little bit more each day and move back to living their lives and playing. That’s fine. You are alive. Be alive.

I will be happy to be gone. It’s painful and exhausting to be alive. I will be relieved when I go. Yes, it’s true, I really won’t be in pain anymore.

The glory in grieving is that there’s no right or wrong way. There’s just your way. However, perhaps … don’t buy a drum set.

Kathleen Braier, Pancreatic Cancer Patient and "Together, We Are Strong" Blogger
About the Author

Is it possible to live a full and meaningful life with cancer? Kathleen thinks so. After she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in 2017, she spent a year on a chemo regimen that provided about 10 days of feeling well enough to live a fairly normal life between treatments. She joked about writing an imaginary blog for about a year before realizing... against all predictions of her imminent demise, she was still somehow alive. She decided she would write a real version of her blog to honor those diagnosed with any late-stage cancers. They might live longer than expected and she wanted to provide a bit of a guide that tells them what that might be like. Posts on the Together, We Are Strong cancer blog can also be read on her personal blog at https://livingmylifein10days.com/. Though not the experience she would have chosen, she does not believe living with an end-stage cancer should stop anyone from living their life with meaning.

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