Supporting Someone Who Has Lost Someone to Cancer

In Breast Cancer, Recent Posts by Barbara Jacoby

Recently I was fortunate enough to connect again on Facebook with a very dear friend and former co-worker who I have always greatly admired and respected. Once he accepted my “friend” request, I proceeded to view his most recent post that he had shared on his page. I was so moved and inspired by what he had written that I immediately requested his permission to share it here with you:

“There will never be the “right” words to speak to another in order to console them when they have experienced such a great loss…”Barbara Jacoby

Stunted Grief

Instead of telling him to be strong, be strong for him,

Instead of telling him not to cry, wipe the tears away,

Instead of telling him time heals all, spend time with him,

Instead of telling him men don’t say that, tell him you love him…

Grief is an expression of many emotions that should be allowed to flow like an unobstructed river. Sometimes words like don’t cry, be strong, and time heals all can act like a dam, blocking the flow of emotions, stunting grief, until a break in the dam occurs. That break can cause unmonitored and undirected waves of destruction to flow to unintended places, resulting in unfortunate results.

Society tells men to be strong everyday, he won’t forget,

Fathers tell young boys all the time not to cry, so he doesn’t,

Time passes, but the wake of grief is still there, he feels it.

Love and recurring support can be menders of broken hearts, helping him learn to live with the grief that he must endure. 

Show support and speak words of love, he needs it.

– Tony Brackett, Feb. 2020

I was moved to write this a few weeks ago and decided to post after observing the beautiful outpouring of emotion and love during the Kobe Bryant memorial today. I think it applies to men and women, but I used the “him” pronoun because there has been a lot of discussion recently about the inability of men to grieve and how this tragedy has given them permission. More importantly, the recent events have allowed others to accept that men can’t bottle up their emotions all the time and expressions of emotion need to happen more. It doesn’t diminish manhood in any way.

Although this was ultimately posted by my friend after the recent outpouring of tributes to Kobe Byrant, I immediately thought of all the times when I have received notification that someone I know has passed away from cancer and their spouses, significant others, best friends, etc. and we were the ones that wanted to find a way to support them in their grief. But the right words just never seemed to be available and often people have responded with comments that not only hurt the person to whom they are directed but actually may have cause permanent damage to the recipient.

There will never be the “right” words to speak to another in order to console them when they have experienced such a great loss but as Tony has pointed out, positive actions always speak louder than the greatest litany that we could ever write or speak. As a result, I know that in the future, when I am in the position to comfort another family or friend who has lost another person to cancer, I will remember Tony’s words and do exactly as he has suggested. And I will always be grateful to him for his most awesome expression of how we treat the boys and men in our lives so that I will never disrespect them for the way that they need and/or choose to express their grief because, bottom line, we are all just human.