Mesothelioma 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.
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.
The mourning process is painful and necessary, but it is even more difficult for survivors when the person who has been lost is seen to have died before their time. It is also difficult for people to face their own death knowing that there is nothing that they could have done to protect themselves, but that others had the power to protect them and chose not to use it. Mesothelioma deaths are often seen as senseless and meaningless, and it is that which makes it much more difficult. There is no good answer to the question “Why?”
Grief over a mesothelioma diagnosis and death is made more difficult by 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.
The litigation process is difficult, as survivors feel that it must be fought in order to get justice for their loved one, but it is fraught with anger and bitterness as they have to face companies who either defend themselves by pretending not to have known about the dangers of asbestos, or argue against their level of responsibility or the amount of money that they should provide to those who are left behind, or to pay for the high costs that mesothelioma exacts in medical bills, lost wages, and pain.
Though the anger that is often expressed through these proceedings may be painful, it may in fact be one of the only ways for those left behind to experience any sense of closure or of having righted a wrong. Having their day in court often feels like the only and best thing that they can do on behalf of their lost loved one.
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