One of our long-time friends had observed at the time Marlene’s mother had died from esophageal cancer, ‘there’s always a casualty with cancer’; even if the patient survives.
What she meant by that is, family dynamics (and perhaps relationships with close friends) become so strained, emotions are so raw, that things are said and done that are hard to forgive. The family rupture may persist for a long time. Even if the relationships survive, they are never the same.
It is easy to understand why. People experience grief and stress differently. They face fear and fight differently. Marlene was an emotionally self-controlled person, very stoical about her mother’s journey with cancer. She was a Registered Nurse. She knew what her mother’s prospects were and she trusted the medical profession to do whatever could be done, within reason. Her sisters were educated women but denial was strong in them. And so they fought. They fought the future, they fought the system, they fought with realistic Marlene. Things were said, long suffering grievances were aired. Damage was done.
But for Marlene, her family relationships were the most important things in her life. So after a long period of separation she began to make overtures for reconciliation. Pretense of healed wounds prevailed, but the relationships were still strained.
And then Marlene herself became ill with cancer. Terminal cancer. The family dynamics changed again with the realization that there was little time left to regain the love and trust that had been lost.
I stood off from all this. I freely admit I have problems with Mercy. It is one of the great virtues I have to work on. I was offended in my own right for the sisters’ behaviour but I was especially hurting for Marlene’s hurt. That said, it was heart-warming to see Marlene’s siblings rally to her in her final years.
All of this played in my mind at Marlene’s funeral.
I had deliberately allowed time for people to hear, and absorb the news of Marlene’s dying, and to make plans to honour her life. And support me too, I suppose.
I never expected that all the people who might have known Marlene, and me, would be able to come to Marlene’s funeral, even if they knew about it. Most of Marlene’s closest friends had already spent time with her in her last weeks and said their goodbyes in person. Some people do not deal with public display of emotion, which is what a funeral ultimately means.
Five people did not come to Marlene’s funeral who I had expected, without exception. Three of these we had counted as close friends of ours, one a close professional friend of mine, one a close personal friend of Marlene’s. By any measure of respect and caring, these people, in my mind, should have put aside their personal circumstances, and come to Marlene’s funeral. They did not come.
There is no hope for Marlene’s close personal friend. He had not the courage to pay his respects to Marlene. That will never change.
I have reconciled with my business friend after a year of estrangement. We will remain friends, though life takes us on our own separate journeys.
The other three grievous disappointments may one day be resolved. But it seems so unlikely now.
And there was one other casualty in this dance with grief, one I least expected, though the signs of a distancing relationship had been there for some time. Several months after Marlene’s death, the strain in the relationship was palpable. One day after Christmas I had been visiting with him and his family. We talked of Marlene’s illness and the unexplained cause. I mentioned that many people had wondered, in that oblique way people have, whether Marlene had been the cause of her own cancer. Our oncologist had insisted that Marlene was merely unlucky – cells mutate all the time, but this time her body did not recognize it as a rogue cell. We know that cortisol spikes with stress, and this can contribute to a breakdown in the body’s own immune system. I offered that Marlene’s year day-caring her beloved grandsons might have been the stressor. Silence ensued; his wife left the room. The relationship has collapsed almost to zero.
There is always a casualty in cancer.