After losing his 18-year-old daughter to a rare form of cancer known as alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, psychology professor and addiction specialist Dave Roberts was spiritually awakened to a new life. Watch his story here. #cancer #grief #healing #hope
Teenaged girls giggled around my sister and me at the mall. They walked together in a tight group, swinging bags of merchandise. Any minute I expected to see my own daughter Liz come around a corner with a group of friends.
But Liz wasn’t here. She died in a duplex fire at college the day before.
“Let’s try this one,” my sister Sue said, guiding me into a shop that looked familiar. Of course. Liz had worked at this store during high school. A true clothes-a-holic, she’d loved the employee discount. Most of her earnings went right back to the store. Now here I was buying one final outfit for Liz—her burial outfit.
“Can I help you?” the salesgirl asked.
“Just looking,” I said.
I felt numb and far away. Sue had driven us to the mall because I couldn’t focus on the road. I couldn’t focus on anything. At the funeral home I had sat with my husband and father in silence while the director went over all the details.
“You’ll need to bring us some of Liz’s clothing,” he explained. “Any time in the next couple of days.”
I sat like a statue, not really understanding. It wasn’t until I got home that his words actually registered: Liz needed new clothes. Her entire wardrobe had been destroyed in the fire along with everything else.
I flipped through the racks around me. How many times had Liz needed new clothes? She seemed to come up with a reason every other week. My daughter was a champion shopper. If it ever became an Olympic sport, Liz surely would have won the gold medal.
“Liz didn’t get her love of shopping from me,” I said, holding up a dress for Sue’s opinion.
I put the dress back on the rack. Sue agreed: It just wasn’t Liz. How could I ever pick the right outfit without her? The clothes in the store swam together like a jumbled mass of fabric.
Liz, you’ve got to help me here, I thought to myself. I have absolutely no idea what to pick.
Sue and I moved through the store and my gaze wandered over the racks. Suddenly, a pair of khaki pants caught my eye. I grabbed a pair in Liz’s size. A few minutes later I reached for a pale blue sweater. “That’s pretty,” Sue said. “Let’s get that.”
“I have no idea if this is what Liz would want,” I admitted.
In my mind I saw Liz picking through racks of clothes. Maybe she can’t care about things like that anymore.
“I guess it doesn’t really matter if I don’t get it right,” I said.
I had once wished my daughter didn’t care so much about clothes. Now the thought of her not being able to care was unbearable, because it meant she no longer existed. Not on earth, anyway. I would never see her again.
The funeral went smoothly, not that I would have noticed any mistakes. Nothing mattered to Liz anymore. Why should it matter to me?
The day after the funeral my sister-in-law stopped by. Karen was the family photographer and had gone through her collection searching for shots of Liz.
“I found one from last Christmas when Liz was over at my house,” she said, digging into her purse. “I don’t think you’ve ever seen it.”
She handed me the photo showing Liz smiling and happily sitting on a couch with her cousins.
I drank in the sight of her face for a moment before scanning the rest of the photo. And when I did, I couldn’t believe it.
Liz was wearing a pair of khaki pants and a pale blue sweater.
You weren’t on your own, I realized. I had asked for Liz’s help. And she did.
A fashionista angel helped me choose the perfect outfit for my daughter, the champion shopper. No longer here with me on earth, but alive as ever in heaven, where one day I will see her again.
No doubt she has a new outfit ready and waiting for the reunion.
Cancer. It’s an ugly word that strikes fear deep in the heart. From the very moment the diagnosis is delivered, our worlds pivot in unimaginable ways.
It’s with great honor that in conjunction with tonight’s telecast Stand Up to Cancer in Los Angeles, I share the newest release in the Grief Diaries series, Surviving Loss by Cancer.
The book is a collection of stories from people who have lost someone they love to cancer ranging in age from 24 to 77. Those who face the same loss can hold this book in their hands and draw strength from the written words. Filled with understanding and compassion, each poignant story weaves a journey beginning with their loved one’s first symptoms, to the moment of diagnosis, through to their loved one’s final breath, and beyond.
The purpose of such a book? To serve as a life raft in the storm by offering readers hope, strength, courage as they too transition into life without their loved one.
A heartfelt thank you to the courageous writers who penned their journeys in this book for the purpose of helping others. You are all heroes in my world, and I’m grateful from the bottom of my heart.
If you know someone who lost a loved one to cancer, please share this book with them. It’s available on Amazon and Kindle, and will soon be available in Barnes & Nobles along with 40,000 other retail outlets around the world. Thank you. XOXO
Lynda Cheldelin Fell
I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. Not because today marks nine years since losing Aly. Rather, the feel of the cool sheets, my sleeping hubby next to me, and the warm sun filtering through our bedroom window felt too peaceful to disturb.
So I laid there and allowed my mind to wander over the past nine years. I replayed that night in the field when I sat next to Aly, how I held her warm hand while strangers on scene surrounded me with love. How Jamie called for an update on the fender-bender only to learn his youngest daughter was covered by the stark white sheet of death.
How we made our way home as the full moon gave way to dawn, wondering when we’ll wake from this nightmare.
What I didn’t know then that I know now is that I would survive.
In those early days I didn’t think I could endure the agony, and many days I didn’t want to. The pain is beyond any words in a college textbook.
How could I learn to live with Aly in my heart instead of my arms? I didn’t know. But whether I liked it or not, I was about to learn.
My playbook of grief begins with a fog of shock so strong, I don’t remember much. The next few chapters are filled with wailing, gnashing of teeth, and spewing vile words. I then embarked on a desperate search for comfort, for relief from the agony. The end of my playbook remains unwritten but the rawness has softened and the current chapters teach that my heart can hold joy the same time as sorrow.
There are many lessons and chapters in my playbook, but the most surprising of all is the one about transformation. In the early days we don’t believe this is possible. How could we? We can’t see past the pain. But as the rawness softens and our coping skills strengthen, we move into an unexpected—and often positive—transformative phase.
What I didn’t know nine years ago that I know now is that Aly’s death was the gateway to many blessings.
My circle of friends has expanded to strangers around the world who speak all loss languages. This taught me that the foundation of mankind is love.
My skillset has expanded to things I didn’t know I could do. This taught me that limitations are self induced, and I can do more than I think.
My compassion has grown in ways I could never have imagined. I learned to see outside my own pain into other hurting hearts, and how helping them helps my own heart to heal.
My gratitude has evolved into an intentional mindset. This taught me that being grateful is a powerful healing modality. The more grateful I am, the more gratitude I have.
Nine years ago I didn’t want to live. But others held that light of hope when I had none. This taught me the importance of sparking, igniting, and shining our light for those in the darkness behind us.
I’m often asked whether the pain ever truly ends. One cliche is that we don’t get over grief, we move through it. I don’t believe we move through it. I believe we learn to carry it with us as we move forward in life.
To answer the question, I do believe pain eases. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. The timing might be different, but don’t give up. Life’s second act will be different, but enjoy the moments when the pain isn’t as suffocating and you’ll find that you don’t have to choose between sorrow or joy. The heart has room for both, and eventually the joy will grow.
Nine years ago I didn’t believe I would survive losing Aly. What I didn’t know then that I know now is not only would I survive, I might actually like—no, love—life.
I love you, Lovey.
Written by Lynda Cheldelin Fell
Her body sank to the floor, her shoulders heaving with sobs. I knelt down, wrapped my arms around her and rested my cheek on her soft hair. I didn’t know her name but I knew her pain.
I saw her again the next day, yesterday, at the top of the escalator. When our eyes met, sobs once again overtook her body. I couldn’t stop her tears but I did know the power of a hug from one bereaved mother to another. I held her right there on the spot, oblivious to others coming and going. Because in that moment, nothing else mattered. Nothing else but her grief. And my love for her, for a stranger.
I didn’t know her name but I knew her pain.
Some wonder why those of us who are years down the road attend grief conferences. Don’t they remind us of the darkest moment of our lives? Why would we want to revisit such pain?
Because when we help others we help our own hearts to heal.
These conferences remind us how far we’ve come.
They remind us how much we’ve changed for the better.
That we’re the hero of our own story by holding the light of hope for those who have none.
Grief conferences recharge our batteries in ways nothing else can. We meet others who speak our loss language, and become lifelong friends based on that alone. Politics, religion, nor socioeconomic backgrounds do not matter here. What matters is that hope is ignited, shared, and protected.
I’m home now, having climbed into bed next to my dear sweet hubby before daybreak this morning. My body is weary but my heart is content. Physically I didn’t do much at this conference, but spiritually I gave all I had. And I’ll do it again next week, next month and next year.
I may not know all their names but I know their pain. When we lose a child we become The Others. And when I hold another Other in her darkest hour, all is right with my world.
I am grateful.
-Lynda Cheldelin Fell XOXO
It was 2 days before their son’s 12th birthday. Joanne’s husband Andy went to lay down for a nap and never woke up. Faced with running her business and raising their two children alone, Joanne found herself experiencing many firsts. Watch her heartfelt story.
I’m sharing this in hopes it will save others. Layne had a 3-D mammogram eight months ago that was completely negative. Most doctors treat nipple sores with multiple rounds of antibiotics without success. By the time the true diagnosis is uncovered, the cancer has advanced to a poor prognosis. Thanks to Layne advocating for herself, it was caught early and her chance of survival is much higher.
Self-Advocacy is learning how to speak up for yourself and be a partner in your own healthcare. Most of us had both reigns over to our medical team because we expect them to get it right. But just like any profession, doctors are humans who are subject to fatigue, emotional stress, family life, and more. Exercise your right to understand. Seek answers, ask questions, probe possibilities. Listen to your intuitive side when making decisions. Stay informed. Knowledge is power.
When your life is on the line, be at the helm of the team.
One magical moment in the summer of 1969 changed my life forever. A chance meeting. A spark. A love that was meant to be. A love that defined me. A love I will carry with me forever.
In 1964, my husband arrived as a first year teacher and basketball coach at my high school. I arrived there as an eighth grade student. No one—especially us—would have ever guessed that five years later we would fall in love and marry.
We were blessed with a son in 1976. In 1982, we moved to Las Vegas and, after a year of coaching, Vern went to work at UNLV’s sports arena. After twenty years, he retired to open the Orleans Arena. Vern was an amazing teacher, fabulous coach and inspiring mentor to many.
Vern had back issues that flared from time to time, so we weren’t initially alarmed when the pain began in 2006. However, when he got to the point where he could hardly walk, I convinced him to see a doctor. A CT scan was done but didn’t show anything, so Vern was sent to a physical therapist. And he got worse. We finally begged his primary physician to get insurance approval for an MRI. We weren’t home too long after the procedure when the doctor called and said, “My God, man, you have a tumor on your spine.” I don’t think I’ll ever forget those words.
We met with the surgeon early the next morning. A small room. Vern in a wheelchair, me on a stool, the doctor showing us the MRI scans. The tumor. The hot spots. Spinal compression fractures. And so many lytic lesions. Multiple myeloma. Cancer. Metastasized. Not a good prognosis.
And so it began, four plus years. Surgeries. Mistakes. Rehab. Physical therapy. Infections. GI bleeds. Pleural effusions. Pneumonia. Pulmonary embolism. Chemo. Radiation. So very many blood transfusions. Colostomy. Kidney failure. Dialysis. He went through so much. And then there was nothing more they could do to him. For him.
Vern’s final days were spent at Nathan Adelson Hospice. No more pricks and prods or waking him up for rounds. He was peaceful. I stayed with him twenty-four hours a day. And those final four days were a gift. He spoke very little the first two days and then was silent, but I have no doubt at all that he was able to hear my words.
When the death rattle arrived, I gently slid into his hospital bed, held him close and spoke to him until he slipped away.
Written by Dianne West in How to Help the Newly Bereaved. Dianne’s beloved 69-year-old husband Vern died from multiple myeloma in 2010.
Today is International Bereaved Mother’s Day, a day to honor those who walk the hardest journey known to motherhood. It’s been nearly nine years since I began such as transformative path, and although that isn’t much time in the world of grief, it’s enough to uncover treasured lessons buried deep under the rubble.
The journey begins very ugly.
“Why me, God?” I wailed. “What did I fail to do to deserve such a fate?”
“It’s not what you did not do,” he said. “It’s what you will do.”
I didn’t understand, and stood at the door of The Wailing Tent spewing vile words and gnashing my teeth. Outside were solitary tents for mothers who weren’t willing to accept fate’s invitation. Not wanting to be alone in my agony, I forced myself across the threshold.
Inside the tent, sisters tended to my broken soul without judgment. They taught me that love comes in many forms, and we don’t need to know someone in order to love someone. For we love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
I also learned to love without boundaries and judgment. This is the point on my journey when judgment of others faded from my heart.
I learned about compassion in ways I never comprehended. My sisters taught me to have compassion without fixing another soul’s problem, lest I rob them of an opportunity to grow.
In addition to love and compassion, I learned about forgiveness. Forgiveness not just for perceived imperfections in others, but for myself as well. This opens the door to self love.
Next comes gratitude. This isn’t fathomable in the journey’s beginning. But through profound sorrow we learn that life can change in an instant, and to appreciate all we have. A grateful heart is a happy heart.
I then learned about hope. I discovered that grief comes in many forms, and without grief there would be no need for hope. Many are robbed of hope but when we help them find it, it helps our own heart to heal.
Finally comes beauty. I learned that our hearts can hold joy the same time as sorrow, and I merely had to give myself permission to embrace life’s beauty. In doing so, it balances the sorrow. That was perhaps the hardest lesson of all, and yet one I treasure most.
Inside The Wailing Tent, no words are spoken. The eyes and heart teach everything we need to know.
So you see, while my journey began very ugly, it has transformed into one of beauty. When I earned my membership into The Wailing Tent, an ancient and sacred sisterhood known simply as the club, I learned to become an ambassador for love, compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, hope, and beauty. Although I don’t always get it right, the lessons I gained through losing a child helped me evolve into a better version of myself.
“It’s not what you did not do. It’s what you will do,” God said.
Today I’m honored to be a member of The Wailing Tent, a place that receives all mothers embarking on life’s hardest teachings. I miss my child with every breath, an ache that lives inside my bones, but without such a journey I would never have had the opportunity to learn life’s most valuable lessons.
I am grateful.
Happy Bereaved Mother’s Day to all.