Grief is something we all encounter in our lives. When I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) twenty years ago, I encountered grief. My feelings of loss manifested as emotions of shock and anger to guilt and even profound sadness. Coping with grief is a messy, discombobulated learning process. Grief can wreak havoc with physical health, interrupting sleep and making you feel confused. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. There are, however, healthy ways to grieve that can help reduce your sadness, help you come to terms with the loss you’ve encountered, and allow you to move on with your life.
When something we love is lost or taken away, the loss can feel overwhelming. The more significant the loss in your life, the more intense your grief. You may associate loss or grief only with the death of a loved one, but it is the result of many adverse events. The loss of health is something we’ve all experienced in the CKD community. Experiencing a decline in health can cause deep feelings of despair and helplessness. However, finding ways you can positively impact your health can lead to physical healing and empowerment.
When I was diagnosed with CKD at the age of 30, I grieved my loss of health, the upset in my future plans, and my financial (in)security. Meeting younger people with CKD helped me cope with the grief I felt about my age. We ALL feel “too young” to have to deal with a chronic illness. Instead of thinking “why me?” I began to think, “why NOT me??? I can deal with this!” I found comfort in meeting others with CKD and exchanging stories. I learned I was not alone and found strength to overcome obstacles that often find their way into our lives.
Aside from kidney disease, there are other ways we experience loss: divorce (or loss of a relationship), loss of a job and/or financial independence, the loss of personal independence, the loss of safety after a traumatic event, or the loss of a cherished pet. Any one of these can cascade into a big ball of messy, unorganized feelings that turn our world upside down. Whatever your loss, it is personal to you. You should not feel ashamed; however, you should make it your goal to positively cope with your grief. They say “time heals all wounds” and “they” were right. Taking steps to cope, I felt more confident in my CKD journey.
Eight years ago, I encountered another form of loss. My husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Although there is “always something” we have to address in our health with CKD, I found myself feeling anger, fear, fatigue, and sadness that I had never encountered before. I went from being the patient, to being the caregiver.
I went with my husband to countless medical appointments, diagnostic procedures, and chemotherapy infusions. There was an adjustment period, but I used my experiences with CKD to advocate for my husband’s health. Because of my experience with CKD, I was prepared for the boredom, hunger, and frustration of those countless medical visits. And although I can’t say that I “never” lost my cool, I was able to care for my husband well because of the empathy I had for him. We had battled together for my life, and it was my turn to help him with his. Unfortunately, his battle ended five years ago.
coping with loss
The first year after his death, I kept really busy. Fixing things around the house that had broken during his illness gave me the opportunity to focus on rebuilding my life. One of my cherished dogs died. It was a difficult, busy year, but I survived. The second year was harder. The people that had surrounded me with care and love drifted back to their own life routines. I felt frustrated. Another dog and my cat died. I went on one date and it was a disaster! LOL!
I took charge. I began to exercise, and I joined a cancer support group. I was the only widow in our group, but it was very welcoming. We formed an American Cancer Society Relay for Life Team. I enjoyed the camaraderie and helping other wives in the group who were fighting for their husband’s lives. I was not only receiving support, I was giving support. The third year, I wasn’t the only widow in our support group. Again, I drew from my own experiences to help others. Being useful made my own grief more tolerable. I adopted a new puppy! Year four was filled with hours of puppy training classes and support group meetings. I became team captain for our Relay for Life team. Not all was rosy: I broke my ankle and my brother died of colon cancer. His death impacted me greatly, but I had developed a good support system and coping was easier.
As I look back at the end of my fifth year, I am thankful and proud I have survived losses and grief. It has not been easy, but I have found new purpose in my life. Living a good life is the ultimate tribute to my husband. My two dogs (the puppy is now 80 lbs!) keep me busy and active. I continue to engage in the CKD community and I have a new family in the cancer community.
Helping others has been a rewarding experience. Although I’ve not been on a second date, I am not alone. I have found positive ways to deal with my grief. I live and I give. I learned that from Lori Hartwell, my CKD mentor. Life is good!
Cher Thomas, RDH is a Registered Dental Hygienist and a renal transplant recipient. After her kidneys failed due to ANCA positive vasculitis, her brother, Robert, was her donor in 1999. Cher utilized her experience with peritoneal dialysis and organ transplantation to explore the relationship between oral and renal health. She lives in Galveston, Texas.
Web ID 1098