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Grief and Mourning

Grief counselors and psychologists are well-equipped to deal with mourning and helping people through the bereavement process. Grieving is normal and healthy and is a necessary part of moving beyond the pain of illness and death. But there are certain situations in which the loss feels so different and extreme that it complicates the grieving process, and mesothelioma is one of those situations.

While grief is most often associated with the loss of a loved one, it is also possible to grieve for someone who is dying or struggling with a severe illness like mesothelioma. You may also experience grief for yourself as you try to cope with the realization that you have to fight a difficult cancer with the possibility that you will lose that fight. Grief is normal, but it is also hard. There are ways in which you can work through grief and come out on the other side feeling better.

Mesothelioma – A Difficult Cancer and a Reason to Grieve

Mesothelioma is an extremely rare form of cancer that strikes approximately 3,000 people in the United States every year. It is caused exclusively by exposure to asbestos, which means that unlike many other forms of cancer those who have been diagnosed with the disease did nothing other than show up to work or, in some cases, live with someone who worked with asbestos to cause their illness. The majority of asbestos-related disease cases are due to occupational exposure, environmental exposure such as people living close to an asbestos mine or plant or working in a building in which asbestos was used during construction, or secondary exposure from family members.

The shock and emotional impact of a mesothelioma diagnosis comes from both the fact that the patient generally has done nothing “wrong” that made them sick, but also because they are generally diagnosed so long after their exposure that the sickness comes as a shock. The situation is further complicated because once diagnosed, patients have such a short amount of time left to them, and much of that time is spent combating the disease.

Mesothelioma certainly does not stand alone in its shock level or its cruelty, but the impact of the disease is somehow made worse for the knowledge that it is a disease that is entirely preventable, and that those who are responsible for the millions of people who have been exposed over the years were fully aware of the peril that they were forcing on their employees, customers, and others. Asbestos mining companies, those who used the product within their factories and work settings and who installed asbestos-laden products into homes, school and office buildings and even household appliances did so with full knowledge that the products were dangerous, but chose their profits over concerns about people.

Coping with Loss from Cancer

Grieving and mourning are natural experiences, but knowing that it is normal to feel this sense of loss doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. One of the most important things you need to know about mourning is that it is a process. Don’t expect it to be a brief moment in time that you will simply get over eventually. You will go through stages, and while the shock of the loss will lessen with time, you may continue to grieve for a long period of time, years even. Here are some ways you can cope with this difficult process:

  • Recognize and acknowledge your emotions. Grief is not just sadness. You may also feel anger, hopelessness, and even guilt. Allow yourself to feel all the emotions and recognize them as part of the process.
  • Surround yourself with loved ones. Now more than ever you need social support. Even if you don’t feel like opening up or talking about your grief, having people around who love and support you is powerful. They can even prove to be a distraction when your negative emotions threaten to overwhelm you.
  • Accept the loss. This may sound obvious, but denial is powerful and you won’t be able to start feeling better until you let the grief wash over you. Accept that the person you love is gone or that your life as you knew it has changed forever. Then you can begin to put your life back together, even if it looks different now.
  • Adjust to a different world. Once you accept that your life has changed, either because of a loss or because you are fighting cancer, you can adjust. You may have to change aspects of your lifestyle, but this doesn’t mean your life has to be worse, only different.
  • Find a support group. Getting support from loved ones is important, but people who have or are experiencing the same thing as you will be helpful as well. If you received a mesothelioma diagnosis, join a support group for cancer patients, or if you lost a loved one, join a group for other people experiencing the same loss.

How to Cope with Mourning Your Own Life

Mourning and grieving are often associated with reactions to the death of a friend or loved one. But for people diagnosed with a terminal cancer like mesothelioma, grieving for oneself is perfectly natural. It is important to realize first that this is normal and to grieve for yourself is not selfish. Being struck with cancer feels unfair and devastating and you are allowed to mourn many things: the way your life used to be, a life without worrying about your health, your now shortened life, and even smaller things like the loss of your hair during chemotherapy.

If your feelings of anxiety, fear, sadness, and hopelessness persist, and nothing you do seems to make them better, you could be experiencing something more serious than typical grief. You may be experiencing depression or an anxiety disorder, which requires professional treatment. With the help of a mental health professional you can talk through your feelings and learn to change the way you think and feel. Therapy and even medications can help.

Grief and Mesothelioma

Grief over a mesothelioma diagnosis and death may be more difficult because of a number of factors. First there is the fact that even under the best circumstances a mesothelioma diagnosis means a life sentence that is extremely limited in the time left to its victims. Family members, friends, colleagues and loved ones are left watching helplessly as the mesothelioma patient struggles with either invasive procedures that are difficult to tolerate and recuperate from, or a slow deterioration that is often accompanied by pain and frustration. Both patient and their support system are left feeling helpless while all the time cursing those who are behind the condition. There is a specific person or company who is to blame, and it is difficult to reach any kind of peace or acceptance with that knowledge.

The sense of loss and powerlessness that mesothelioma patients’ families experience is similar to those felt by the victims of crime, and that is true beyond the actual emotions that they feel. Those who have been impacted by mesothelioma are often put into the difficult position of extending their grieving process through the lengthy legal process that continues long after the patient has lost their painful battle.

If you are grieving because of mesothelioma, a diagnosis or a loss, let yourself go through the process, look for support from others, and let an advocate help you through any legal battles you are facing. You need to focus on the mourning process and healing, which is why a mesothelioma lawyer is so helpful in taking charge of the legal battle for you.

Page edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.

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