Along with sadness, denial and all those expected emotions, I didn't expect envy - envy of people with rounded limbs, and a presumption of a future. Living life without an expectation of it going on for much longer is so radically different, and hits me hard at the strangest moments.
2. IT'S NOTHING LIKE I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE.
Turns out this is like most things in life - totally different to what I'd expected. It's surprised me with how happy I feel a lot of the time, and what can make me feel terrible. I can't accurately anticipate how things will be, ever, and that's a good thing to remember when I feel overwhelmed by horrific thoughts of dying, or being dead. Whatever I think (and fear) it will be like, it probably won't.
3. I'M STILL ME.
Suddenly, my body acts and feels different, I don't go to work, I don't eat or feel the same, and so many people in my life start treating me like 'a cancer patient' instead of Lois, who has cancer. It's hard to hold onto a sense of still being me; someone that has the courage, creativity and skills to deal with this huge challenge in my life. I need to limit my time with people who only want to hear about my pain levels or the cancer, and cherish time with those who remind me I am strong and capable, and can do this.
4. IT'S IMPORTANT TO HAVE A PROJECT.
It's too easy for life to get taken up with managing pain and drugs and medical issues. It's been important for me to have something that matters to me to structure my days and give me a continuing sense of myself and a purpose for my life.
5. I GET TO SEE SOME OF THE FRUITS OF MY LIFE.
I've always known people are kind and generous, but I've been overwhelmed by how many people have taken time to tell me how I have touched their life and inspired or helped them. It's made me realise how important it is for me to do the same, and tell people what a difference they have made to my life, and how glad I am to have crossed paths with them.
Dr Lois Tonkin is a lecturer, researcher, counsellor, and writer about loss and grief. Her work with grieving people, and with the other professionals who support them, reflects her understanding that grief is not only about our responses when someone dies, but about losing anything that is important to us. It may be our relationship, our dreams of having a child, our hopes and expectations, independence, jobs, home or health.
Living with the losses of life is not so much about getting ‘over’ them, as finding ways to live with them, and live a happy and full life that includes them. Grieving is an experience of making sense of our losses, of getting adjusted to a different life and different expectations; of growing around them.