Glorious Purpose After Cancer


I felt a kinship with the main character in the book, “A Man Called Ove,” though luckily, I had a purpose after my wife died of melanoma, and that helped to keep me going.

Cartoon drawing of blogger Robin Zimmerman

I was raised with two parents and three siblings in a blue-collar neighborhood. My father was not educated beyond eighth grade and my mother finished high school. My oldest sibling was the only one of us to attend college.

I acquired a work ethic by witnessing my parents’ actions in life. If there is a problem, fix it. If you don’t know how to fix it, learn how. The cost of a repairman was beyond our families reach so this was a fact of life. My father demonstrated that a job done well is satisfaction enough. There was no need for praise or even a thank you for doing what was necessary or for just helping someone out. I was required to purchase my first car and have my own money for insurance before my father would teach me to drive. We found a Plymouth Valiant with a damaged front fender in a used car lot. With help from my father, a trip to the wrecking yard, a weekend of work and the car was good as new.

I recently read “A Man Called Ove” and watched the movie “A Man Called Otto,” based on the book. The bookwas much more detailed about Ove’s life and ethics, and these were very similar to mine. When Ove’s/Otto’s wife was injured, he remodeled the kitchen to align with her wheelchair-bound needs. When a wheelchair became a necessity for my wife, I went to work building a ramp on our steps. He cared for his wife with empathy and compassion the way only a man completely in love can do. I recognized myself in those actions.

Ove/Otto’s grief over his wife’s death was profound.

I had a feeling of kinship with this character,but at that point we diverged. He had no children. He had recently been forced into retirement. So, the void left by his wife’s death was exponentially increased. In my case I had an adult son to share with and a preteen daughter to care for. I had a job that still filled a large portion of my life, and it was a necessity to support myself and my daughter. I took a proactive approach to grief. I sought counseling for myself. A priority for me became self-educating on grief, especially its effect on a teen girl losing a mother. I did not have a void. I had the opposite: a defined purpose.

It has been 15 years since my wife’s passing and my son is now married with two children. My daughter was married just under a year ago. I may be alone, but I do have a purpose. Not long after my wife’s passing, my daughter was in high school and I decided a change in family leave law was needed. I was not able to access my sick pay to support my time off after her death and I saw a need to fix this. It took three years of work to pass that legislation.

“If there is a problem, fix it.”

Awareness of melanoma was limited, and volunteers were needed to help raise funds and spread the word. Continuing education, involvement and taking on more responsibilities in that capacity has filled my life. I speak at events on occasion, but I am more content working in the background.

“A job well done is satisfaction enough.”

Whether through chance or divine intervention Ove/Otto found purpose and it saved his life. As we face losses, successes, life in general, it is important to take a step back and examine oneself. What is my purpose? What gives my life meaning? Not the key to a long life, but probably what is needed for a happy one, is finding that purpose and being satisfied with what is accomplished with no need “for praise or even a thank you”. I believe that it is a beautiful thing to be “Burdened With Glorious Purpose”.

WARNING: “A Man Called Ove”/”A Man Called Otto” does deal with the subject of suicide.

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