Category Archives: Grief

Bearing Witness…


In the last couple of weeks, two more of John’s and my friends from college have passed away from cancer, both leaving behind orphans and grieving spouses. That’s something like 11 people now that John and I went to college with, who have passed away from cancer in the last 3 years. All in their 40’s. All from a theology college of less than 2000 students. A college that closed its doors 3 years after I left and no longer exists, except in memory.

Our alumni community as a whole is shocked and grieving, as two of our best fought hard and died. And as my worries since John’s death have multiplied and as our wedding anniversary approaches just before Christmas, I would be lying if I said I am not struggling to survive every day. John and I would have celebrated 23 years together on the 23rd before Christmas. We got married on Christmas weekend to make it easier on our friends around the country to be able to attend. I struggle with a lack of luster and motivation now that I never knew possible, even during John’s fight. A lack of motivation that only comes from loss caused by death. I think perhaps my lack is more significant than expected in part because of how long and hard the fight was. If he’d passed away suddenly, there wouldn’t have been time to hope. He wouldn’t have worked his butt off, hoping doctors would learn as much as possible from him, only to feel like it meant nothing. At least during the fight we had hope. But in the end, I could not save John’s life. And either neither could, or would, God. Now, there is no hope in the physical life. There’s only hope in death. When you’ve lived a life of service and it’s all you know, such terrible losses and traumas are extremely hard to justify, or recover from. If what I do here on this plane does not make a difference, then where is the motivation in this life.

Megan Divine is an expert in extreme grief and loss. You can find her website at https://www.refugeingrief.com. She created a helpful video titled, How Do You Help A Grieving Friend?, which I’ve shared below.

In my struggle to find words, I’ve voiced much of what this video points out. It’s all true. Witnessing is the most powerful thing in the enduring and bearing of grief. Opportunity to speak and experiences to be heard are invaluable.

When half of you dies and life speeds on and everyone else goes back to living, we feel trapped in a madness no one else sees. Because it *is* a madness no one else knows without having experienced it. And the only way out is to give it voice with witnesses.

My experience with the trauma of glioblastoma and John’s death has made me think about my philosophies on parenthood even deeper. When my kids fell and got hurt, I didn’t interpret their pain for them (that must really hurt) nor did I deny it’s existence (aw, you’re not hurt) either. I held them as they cried, let them tell me about it while taking care of anything I knew needed attention and then figured out how to guide them in their emotions based on how they were processing them. I realized that there were times that my children felt trapped, waiting for someone to notice that something was wrong. For someone to stop them and give them the chance to speak. Part of my job was being a detective too and not just expecting that my kids knew they could talk to me, but proving it. They needed to process and they needed to feel safe with me to do it in a healthy and useful way. They needed a chance to evolve carefully emotionally. I didn’t need to tell them how they felt, they needed to voice it out and share with me and sort it verbally. I wanted my kids to know their own voice, so they could find it when they need it most. And I wanted them to know I would listen, in everything, little or big. As a result, my relationship with my kids is stronger, when they and I need it most. I listened to everything, so they’d never doubt if I could be trusted when the big things came up.

Grief is much the same way, just a large-scale experiment. It’s a two-way street, but when the grieved feel their hands being truly held, vs. slapped, denied or even a vacuum of no hand to find at all (silence is the worst), it makes a difference. Witnessing helps most of all. Tell me your story, the real one, not the pretend one. Hasn’t genuine friendship always been about that? Don’t real people, good people do that for each other?

Some really traumatic and horrible things happened that no one wants to acknowledge, not even I want it to be real. And yet if they’re never acknowledged, healing will never truly take place. It helps me when my friends will bring up and speak John’s name, when they acknowledge his fight and that it was hard, not easy, when they ask questions and are willing to hear the truth. It helps when friends let me be genuine and don’t expect me to put on a “good face.” It helps when my friends don’t seem to disappear into a black hole too, when they don’t avoid me so as to not experience my agony. It helps to know my friends are not afraid of me.

Thank you to those who will take the opportunity to learn with me and who will bear to witness.

As many of us come together as a community to support a variety of trials and losses and hard experiences, some very recent and painful in the loss of our alumni friends, and all the cancer fights in our circles, this is the introspection I have today.


This video is hosted on YouTube and is copyright Megan Devine and Refuge in Grief. It is shared here with permission. You can learn more about Megan and her work at https://www.refugeingrief.com.

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Filed under Friends and Family, Glioblastoma, Grief

Tonight I want to tell you a story about my husband John…


My name is Julia. My husband died from a terrifying brain cancer called glioblastoma. Tonight I want to tell you a story about my husband John…

John was my best friend in the world. I remember the first time he told me that I was his best friend. And I remember after years of marriage, still feeling bewildered. That John Chambers thought of me as his best friend. Because he was the toughest guy I knew. And and he was cool as shit.

I asked him about his sister, and his best guy friends, all of whom he was very close to. Because I figured surely they were his best friends before I was.

And he said “That’s true, but it’s different with you. You’re my life, you’re my breath. I trust you implicitly with everything that I am. I trust you more than anyone else in the world.”

And I was humbled by this 6’5″ operatic giant, who was intelligent and tough, and who believed in always doing the right thing. That the strong should protect the weak. That the able had a responsibility to use their strengths for good. And I was slightly terrified to be entrusted with so profound a thing.

John was a hero and a great leader to others. The guy who rescued people from elevators during power outages in a snow storm, because it was the right thing to do. And he was the only one strong enough to open the doors to do it.

He was Super Man, and out of everyone, he cherished and trusted me most.

I was stunned at the beautiful confirmation that our souls spoke beyond words. He was my everything. Together we were empowered. Together we could do anything. Together, no one could stop us. Together we were both better individually and collectively.

How did I come to be the one to hold the precious jewels of his heart and trust. It was easy for me to see why I trusted him. Why I fell so hard for him. He was such a good, good man. Not to mention he had an enchanted singing voice. But for him to fall so hard for me, to so deeply trust me…. How did it come to be?

John told me a story about a lesson he learned from his widowed grandmother. One summer during college, he stayed with her, helping her paint and repair the home that his grandfather built. John loved great conversation and he cherished the time he spent with his grandparents. At some point during this summer, the subject of relationships came up, and John made some comment to his grandmother about the kind of (tall) woman he needed to find to marry. And she told him “You don’t marry a body, you marry a mind.”

Her words struck his core profoundly, and he never forgot. “You are gorgeous,” he said to all 5’1″ of me, “But more than that, your heart and mind are astonishingly beautiful. I love who you are inside. Others don’t see it, but I do.” It was a raw moment of love and joy. To be truly seen, soul to soul. A moment I couldn’t believe I was lucky to have.

John told me often during our 22 years together that it was his job to remind me how beautiful I was, inside and out. To set things right and make up for traumas of the past. To help me to see my beauty and believe in myself. To help me experience that life could be fun. John taught me that I had a right to safety and that it was OK to have healthy boundaries. And he told me, over and again, unto the last weeks of his life, that I was the reason that he was a better man. That without me, his life wouldn’t have been enriched and that because of me he wanted that much more to be a better man. That he wanted that much more to do good things, to help others and make a difference in the world.

And here I thought it was he who taught me more about real love than anyone I’d ever known.

As I stumble through the shards left of my reality after his death, I try to hang onto his words. I remind myself that one of the best souls I’ve ever known never stopped thinking that my mind was smart and beautiful. He even thought I gave good advice. I always counted on his, and boy could I use some of it right now.

I wrote before about the gift of holding our children’s beginnings. The part of life that later our kids cannot remember. The part of their beginning that no one else sees. No one else contains more of those moments than we parents. We hold our children’s first stories.

I did not expect the astonishing reality of holding my husband’s ending. It is a terrifying, yet precious gift. To hold him, his heart and soul. To walk his last walk with him and share his nightmare. To fight for him with every drop of my blood, every beat of my heart, every breath in my chest. To crack wide open and pull out every possible skill I could to save his life. To be the one to bear witness to every honorable and gritty detail. The one who contains his final story. The one to be entrusted with his death.

I am his horcrux.

I hold his story. Together he can never be defeated.

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Filed under Glioblastoma, Grief, NaBloPoMo

There Is No Spoon…


I’ve had a recurring dream most of my life.

That there is plenty in the world until I arrive. Then something happens. But everyone around me is oblivious to my situation.

People see me a certain way and cannot see that my reality is quite different from their perception. I am assumed or judged by actions I have not taken and a reality I have not lived.

Last night I dreamt I got to attend a music performance at my daughter’s college. One of her friends was performing with a group, and the event would be followed by a banquet.

We arrived and everything was beautiful. We picked out seats, but I really needed to find a restroom. On my way back, I get completely lost. I ask for directions back to the performance hall, but no one knows what I’m talking about.

I finally find my way back, but I’ve not only missed the performance, I cannot find anyone I know. Still, I’m just in time to get a plate of food from the buffet before they tear it down. And I’m so hungry.

The buffet table is huge, taking up most of one side of the banquet room. As I go through, there’s very little left that I’m not allergic to, but I manage to find a little meat. Thankfully there’s still a little salad left on the salad bar at the end of the buffet.

I set my plate down to get the last of the salad, but as soon as I do, someone has taken my plate of food.

I’m in tears and I cry out, Not Again.

I can’t find my plate anywhere. My stomach pangs growl. And as I look back over the buffet, it’s been completely cleared.

All I have are a few leaves of spinach in a bowl. Even the water is gone.

And I feel despair.

This dream theme has recurred most of my life. And seems to play out in weird ways in my reality.

That everything somehow seems more complex for me. That normal sustenance, and needs fulfilled, is not readily available to me. That my trials are never typical. Like an alien trapped on a world I never quite click with. My timing is always off.

Everyone congratulates me on my cooking skills, yet no one is aware that I’m starving.

While it has improved some over time (i.e. my dreams rarely involve mortal danger now too), I’d like to conquer this dream. Master whatever it is that it represents. This dream had gotten better before. But it’s gotten much worse in the last 3 years since John’s glioblastoma diagnosis and death.

It’s understandable, but I need to figure out how to resolve it.

Or succumb.

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Filed under Grief, Random Thoughts, Widowhood, Writing

Understanding Doesn’t Erase It…


No matter what I understand about stress and grief and trauma, the understanding does not erase its reality.

Understanding alone does not give me freedom.

I still have to work through the muck. Albeit, it does help to understand.

Grief and trauma aren’t like injuries. They are injuries.

I never understood the physical reality of grief as an injury as well as I understand it now. I peel back the layers every day, and still there are more.

Grief is a uniquely human wound.

Even understanding the anticipatory grief packaged with John’s terminal illness did not prepare me for the eventual reality of his death. It did not prepare me for this side of the trauma. We soldiered on through the brutality of his fight for life, because John and I faced things together. No matter how gritty, our family faced everything together. And we had hope for a cure.

Now… that hope has exited stage left, as has John. And now he’s not here to stare down his son’s own cancer with us too.

Grief cripples, even when you understand. Even when you seek balance in all things. You are not “you” for awhile. Maybe you never will be.

“Faith” that I’ll see John again in spirit does not erase the physical reality I face every day. It does not erase the wounds of our trauma together. It does not remove the flood at my knees or the fight at my door.

While no one can take over my burden for me, my friends and family can cushion the pointy-ness, salve the pain, steady me when I falter and stumble. Hold my hair back as I vomit from this Life’s kick in the gut.

No one has ever thrived alone. Human history is proof of this, over and over again. The world’s sacred texts are filled with example after example. Nature also teaches us this. We can survive alone, but we do not thrive. And we don’t heal from mortal wounds without assistance, from God or otherwise.

Like any piercing physical ailment, grief and trauma require recovery and healing. Avoidance does not erase the reality of it nor the need for working through it, any more than a broken leg can be pretended away. But neither does justification or comprehension remove the reality either.

While many things are affected and even created by belief alone, some things cannot be simply unmade through knowledge and recognition. And while choices have consequences, not all “consequences” have choices.

Sometimes, the task set upon us is unfair and without cause.

Understanding alone doesn’t do the work or walk the path of Life. It merely assists in our perspective. We still must face and work with the actual reality.

Perspective and applied understanding help us transmute. And transmutation of the spirit is why we’re here. To be reborn with every conscious effort, ever seeking the Path, even when obscured by tragedy. Even when we feel alone and blind with pain.

We are not robots and we are not God. I may be a part of God, a part of the family of God, or even part of the Great Network as I understand it, but I am not the sum of Creator. And yet, even my Creator God feels. Even Jesus cried out on the cross.

Christ understood far more about the universe and spiritual reality than we can comprehend. And yet when Lazarus died, whom He was about to raise from the dead – “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) 

Knowing everything he knew, knowing that Lazarus would return to life, knowing God and the nature of the universe and our connection, Jesus was overcome with emotion and cried for the friend he loved.

How could I be expected to perform “better” than that?

Life is in the Overcoming.

And some tasks are more difficult than others.

#ThoughtsForTheDay

—–
June 25th, 2018
5:40pm
by Julia Meek Chambers
All rights reserved.

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Filed under Grief, Random Thoughts, Widowhood, Writing