Comfort

After my mom’s cancer diagnosis, lots of things changed: schedules, diets, and priorities, to name a few. But one of the most difficult things to get used to was the identity crisis that ensued. Because when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, she was quickly stripped of her sense of self. It felt like whoever she was—whatever made her her—was swallowed up by a new identity: Patient.

I feel the sting of my mother’s absence most acutely at the milestones. In some ways, the milestones, no matter how many years separate them from her death in 2010, make me feel like I’ve just lost her. But in other ways, the milestones that I’ve experienced without my mother bring a new richness, too—just because my mother is gone doesn’t mean that a joyous milestone must be tragic.

One of the first things my mother did when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer was contact an estate attorney. She was always good at planning ahead, and she treated death no differently.

In Issue 11 of The Magazine (a subscription-based online and iPhone/iPad app that features fascinating short articles on a range of often-tech-related topics), Jane Hodges writes about the death of her father. The essay is a moving portrait of her father and of her experience after his death, as she threw away his things.

When someone is dealing with a significant hardship, like death or caring for someone who is dying, the natural inclination may be to give that person space. And sometimes, that’s exactly what the person needs, especially in the beginning when she’s trying to make sense of the emotional avalanche that just landed on her plate. Sometimes, offering space can be a way of offering compassion.

But sometimes, space is not the answer.