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The one thing never to say to someone who's experienced loss (or a #cancer diagnosis) #grief

The One Thing You Should Never Say to Someone Who’s Experienced Loss (or a cancer diagnosis)

It’s been three years since my dad died and no, I’m not over it.

Oh sure, I’ve adjusted. I’ve adapted. I’ve moved forward. (Not on.)

But over it?

No, I am not.

No one has ever directly said, you should be over it by now or anything to that effect. No one has ever implied it either. Not that I know of anyway.

Sadly, this is not the case for everyone who’s experienced loss.

For a good read on this, take a look at this piece: The Grief Experience: Survey Shows It’s Complicated.

Telling someone to “get over it” just might be the one thing you should never say to someone who’s grieving. And it doesn’t matter how fresh the loss is.

Of course, people don’t usually come right and say such a bold thing, but the message is sometimes implied, nonetheless.

Maybe YOU’VE heard such a message – directly or indirectly.

If so, how did hearing it make you feel?

Better?

Worse?

Probably the latter, right?

Life-altering events like the death of a loved one or a cancer diagnosis, change a person.

The old you is gone. For good.

Some can’t handle this and prefer that you just be over whatever it is/was that changed you, perhaps more for their sake than yours.

After all, avoidance of difficult topics is not an uncommon behavior.

But when you think about it, how could you be the same after either?

And this doesn’t mean you are better or worse. (Don’t get me started on the idea that cancer transforms you into a new and improved version of yourself.)

You might want to read, After a Cancer Diagnosis You’re a Better Person, Right?

What doesn’t kill you doesn’t necessarily make you stronger. Yeah, that song sorta irks me.

You’re just different now.

And yet, you’re the same too.

That sounds contradictory because it is. It’s complicated. People are complicated. Life is complicated. Death is too.

I still have days when I miss my dad so much it startles me, for lack of a better phrase. The emotions are still right there close to the surface. As I type this, my eyes fill with tears. Sometimes, I still feel quite lost.

And this is okay.

It makes no sense to think grief is something to get over after three years. Or five. Or ten. Or whatever passage of time you choose.

You don’t get over the love you felt/feel for your dear one who’s died.

What you can do, or try to do, is integrate your experience of loss into your life and make it part of who you are.

I’m still figuring that out, which is one of the reasons I choose to write about grief even though doing so perhaps makes some uncomfortable.

If you are trying to figure this out, too, I’d love to hear from you.

After all, navigating grief is easier when done together rather than alone too.

To get more articles like this delivered weekly to your inbox, Click Here! #KeepingItReal

Has anyone ever suggested to you that you should be over grief (or cancer) by now?

If so, how did you respond?

What’s a hurtful thing someone has said to you about grief (or cancer)

What is something said that really helped?

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The one thing never to say to someone who's experience loss (or a cancer diagnosis) #cancer #breastcancer #grief

15 thoughts to “The One Thing You Should Never Say to Someone Who’s Experienced Loss (or a cancer diagnosis)”

  1. Please don’t tell me I’m lucky to not have needed chemo. I know chemo is brutal, but I don’t feel lucky to have had cancer, thank you very much.

  2. How about, “At least you’ll get a perky new pair!” I really hated that one. And besides, of course, it wasn’t true. Reconstruction doesn’t look that great. At all.

    1. This was my particular trigger point. Lucky me. No Chemo. Lucky me, a “new set of perky ones.” They don’t look normal. They don’t look real and I still have pain every day 4 1/2 years later from the neuropathy the double mastectomy left me. There is no lucky here. Except I’m still alive, and maybe I’ll see grandchildren some day. My body thinks it’s 20 years older than it is thanks to lack of every hormone I had, and I have fewer “girl” parts than any transsexual person. Lucky? Get over it? Let’s talk quality of life.

  3. You know, insensitive and hurtful remarks are not always contained to uninformed or ignorant people. I have had a fellow breast cancer patient tell me how easy I had it since my treatment plan called for no radiation or chemo, at least not by what she could see while I stood before her in the infusion room. She wasn’t aware that my initial diagnosis was stage 4, already metastatic. She wasn’t aware that my surgeon and doctors agreed that radiation wasn’t an option and the oral chemo drugs I was taking were “blessing me” with the worst of the adverse symptoms. She wasn’t aware of my case in any way and even though she had probably been faced with insensitive and intrusive remarks or comments herself she did’t recognize how insensitive or unwelcome her comments were. Getting that confirmation that you have a breast cancer, regardless of stage or metastasis doesn’t instantly make someone considerate or empathetic or even kind. Fortunately, I heard my mothers voice repeating the phrase “if you can’t say something nice…”. So my response to her was “I hope you have a really good outcome from your treatment”.

    1. Sue, I am so very sorry you had to experience that incredibly insensitive encounter. I really dislike that “competition” that some cancer patients feel compelled to engage in. My diagnosis is worse, my treatments are longer, my side effects more numerous, etc., etc., etc. Any and all cancer diagnoses and treatments are horrible. Period. End of story. I would not wish this disease on my worst enemy.

    2. Sue, You are so right. Getting a cancer diagnosis doesn’t instantly make a person considerate, empathetic or kind. When people aren’t aware, they are exactly that, unaware. I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with insensitive, hurtful remarks even from fellow breast cancer patients. Your response that you shared was pretty kind, considering. You took took the high road. Your mother would’ve been proud. Thank you for sharing. I hope you’re doing well.

  4. At my sixth month check up with my surgeon, where I asked for a referral for delayed reconstruction, she became angry and verbally abusive after I bought information from a different medical center on a new reconstruction surgery that could heal lymphedema, hoping this center knew of this advancement. I apologized for bringing the article, and again told her I would like to pursue a Diep flap procedure citing problems with failure of implants at about 8 years. She flicked her finger at me telling me I wouldn’t have to worry about that. After wondering why it wouldn’t matter to me, I felt panic in my stomach. I said to her “You don’t think I will last 8 years!” She said “I meant you’re no young woman!” She tell abruptly walked out. A nurse came in, sat down, leaning close to me saying “I know you had breast cancer, but you have to get yourself together and move on”. Wow, here I was asking about reconstruction six months after a mastectomy, and being told I better forget about the life threatening cancer that could recur at any time in my future!

    I hope I never have to see that doctor or nurse ever again, and I pray they never treat another breast cancer patient that way no matter her age. By the way, I was 68 years old.

    1. Jan, That doctor’s tone and response was completely out of line. And then the nurse’s comment, oh my. I’m sorry you had to go through that. I hope you never have to see either one of them again too. I think the doctor’s behavior should’ve been reported. Thank you for sharing about that unpleasant (and unacceptable) experience. I’m wondering if you got the DIEP surgery.

  5. The harshest thing I’ve heard wasn’t even said to me. I was chatting with the wife of a male cancer patient in the waiting room and she started to tell me what a wimp her husband was and how much he complained about chemo. She mentioned that her friends, who were breast cancer survivors, chided him for complaining using the phrase, “at least you didn’t have your boobs lopped off”. I really felt bad for the poor guy (who was sitting right beside her as she told me all this) and was horrified that it was women who had themselves been through the trauma of cancer who were vilifying him. I wish I’d had a chance to validate the poor guy but they got called into the doctor’s office just as I was opening my mouth to say something.
    On another note, I just wanted to say that I fully understand your grief. Three years is a very short space of time to come to terms with your loss. My mother died thirty years ago and I still get choked up when I eat cheesecake. That was our special ritual…go shopping and then have tea with a slice of cheesecake. I still miss her and wish every day I could pick up the phone and hear her voice. It doesn’t mean I haven’t coped with her death or “moved on”, it very simply means I miss her….and I always will.

    1. Lennox, Oh my, that poor man. What in the world was wrong with his wife to say those things? And with him sitting right there? Very mean spirited, to say the least. Thank you for sharing about your mother. It helps to know others like you understand. I love your story about the cheesecake, what a lovely ritual to remember. Thank you for sharing about her and about that special memory. Yes, we miss our loved ones who’ve died forever. Thank you for taking time to share.

  6. Jan,

    What was said to you by both the surgeon and her nurse is unconscionable, unprofessional, and just plain ugly. I would never go back to this office again. For every ignorant office like this one, there are skilled and caring professionals who want and can help you. Don’t be deterred-look for the right surgeon. Read reviews, consult other hospitals in your area, do what you have to, get the help that you deserve.

    I had a similar experience when I was asking for a referral from my long time primary care physician (PCP) to treat my breast cancer. Not only did I not receive a good referral, but I was dismissed, mocked, and ugly things were said to me as well.

    I was hurt for a few days. But I got on the phone, the internet, and did everything I suggested to you. And I found my own breast surgeon, who did an outstanding job, and through his referrals I obtained a wonderful cancer team, who I still see today. And when my treatment finished, I made one last move, to a wonderful new PCP who interacts well with my cancer team and who cares about my health. I know without doubt that my outcome would have been very different had I not taken the initiative.

    I’m rooting for you! You got this!

  7. Six months after my reconstruction (expanders then implants) I called my PLastic Surgeon’s office to inquire about a 6 month follow up and was told I didn’t have or need that appointment. When I said I wanted to come in, as I had an issue with one side’s implant, I was transferred to the nurse who had done my “fills”. I described my issue, and was told that was normal for reconstruction. I then said I knew of others who had gotten fat transfer to help fill in the “gaps” (which was my problem…an implant over and a large gap on the edge) and was told my Dr didn’t like fat transfer because it doesn’t work. So I was basically “dismissed”….never asked to see me in person. My daughter happens to work for a renowned hospital in another city and when she found this out, insisted I meet with their head Plastic Surgeon (who is well known for correcting reconstruction issues). He was wonderful and is correcting my issues, actually tomorrow! So depressing to be “dismissed” by my original Plastic Surgeon, who is very well known and respected as one of the best in our large city, but I have since been told he doesn’t ‘t really like reconstruction…just does it because he feel “obligated”. That was depressing but feel fortunate to have found the right place to go.

    1. Missy, So sorry to hear how your issues were so dismissed. That is not right. Fortunately for you, your daughter hooked you up with a new PS who sounds far better. Sadly, all women don’t have the same access or ability to change doctors easily. I hope your appointment went well! Thank you for taking time to share. Good luck with things.

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