2023 - January - Town & Gown - Loss, Grief, Gratitude and Humor

By: Jackie Naginey Hook
Sunday, January 1, 2023

Loss, Grief, Gratitude and Humor

When I was invited to write a piece for the Pink Zone insert, I wondered what I could say to be helpful. I have never had breast cancer or been treated with chemotherapy, radiation or extensive surgeries.

As I pondered this reality, I recognized that breast cancer is a loss. And loss is something I work with every day as a grief companion, funeral celebrant, and end-of-life doula. Loss comes in all shapes and sizes. When we say goodbye to one day, that’s a loss. When we change jobs, that’s a loss. When a loved one dies, that’s a loss. When we get breast cancer, that’s a loss.

Grief is the natural reaction to loss. Grief is what we feel on the inside, and mourning is moving it to the outside. A breast cancer diagnosis means you need to be gentle with yourself, allow yourself to feel the many emotions of grief, and find healthy ways to mourn – talking, crying, writing, creating, spending time in nature, etc. All things that move grief to the outside.

Although I personally haven’t dealt with breast cancer as a loss and something to be grieved, I have an awesome friend who has. This longtime friend journeyed with breast cancer and considers herself one of the “lucky ones.” In talking with her about her insights on the disease, the first words she shared were gratitude for the medical services she received in State College.

Gratitude is something else I know a lot about. In the grief education and support gatherings I facilitate for Koch Funeral Home, we often talk about gratitude. Grief and gratitude are two sides of the same coin. Science has proven that gratitude promotes quality of life and can be helpful on the grief journey. In relation to breast cancer, studies have found that gratitude increases adaptive coping which also increases well-being.

My friend taught me another thing about breast cancer. The role of humor when dealing with it. This friend is one of the funniest people I know; when we’re together, she always makes me a laugh.

Laughter is good medicine. It’s a helpful coping mechanism and has physiological benefits as well. One resource that merges humor and breast cancer is: How to . . . Keep on Laughing: A Guide to Coping Humor for Breast Cancer Patients, By Breast Cancer Patients. This poem from the guide written expresses the importance of humor:

“Sanctuary” By “Rabbit”
When things are dark, 
and I’m afraid,
I crawl into my mind,
and close my eyes,
 and take a deep breath,
until I am brave enough
to smile and peep outside
to see if there is any laughter
I can step into and be safe.

So here is what I know: recognize that breast cancer is a loss, allow yourself to experience the grief of this loss and mourn it, practice gratitude, and meet the disease with some humor. And what I really know is I’m in awe of women like my friend who are challenged by breast cancer, persevere, and share their stories with others.

Jackie Naginey Hook, MA, is a spiritual director, celebrant and end-of-life doula.  She coordinates the Helping Grieving Hearts Heal program through Koch Funeral Home in State College.  For more information, please call 814-237-2712 or visit www.kochfuneralhome.com.

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