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Dealing with Grief

I lost my dad to cancer this morning. Thankfully, it was not a surprise. He was diagnosed a year ago and went through several rounds of chemo and radiation. It sort of worked for a while. But just before Christmas, we found out the cancer had spread to his brain. A few weeks ago, he stopped doing chemo because it wasn't working. On Father's Day (just 5 days ago), my mom called and let me talk to him for the last time. It was hard for him to talk. I couldn't understand him, and I'm not sure if he understod me. My mom translated for us, though. We both said "I love you" -- something neither of us had said to each other in years. His health declined rapidly after that. This morning, my mom called to tell me he had died.

I'm still processing it. I think I'll be processing it for the rest of my life. This post is part of the processing.

We can't control the world. Sometimes people die, and it's beyond our control. In cases like these, the only thing that's (somewhat) in our control is how we react. To some degree, we control how we allow ourselves to be changed by the death of a loved one. And to some degree, we can control how we "frame" their death -- i.e. we control the story we tell ourselves about what the death means. In other words: We can't control grief; but we can control the grieving process.

Take Alice and Bob. They do not know each other. Both of them have just lost their father to cancer. Neither of them have lost a family member before. Neither is particularly religious. Both are experiencing the typical symptoms of early-stage grief: they are overwhelmed by sadness, they feel detatched from the world, their thoughts are foggy. They struggle with questions like "Why did this happen to him?" and "What does this mean about life?"

Fast forward a few weeks, though, and there are differences. Bob has begun to drink every night. He has put on several pounds. To him, his father's death symbolizes the meaninglessness of life. We live, then we die, and it's all pointless.

Alice, on the other hand, has joined a gym. She has stopped drinking and begun cooking healthier meals. To her, her father's death is a wakeup call -- a reminder that our time on earth is short. She knows that she could die at any time. She thinks about it daily. But she believes that if there's even a small chance that she can extend her life or improve her life's quality, then she wants to take it.

I honestly don't know which of these will be me. I'm hoping I'll be more like Alice. That's sort of what this post is about.