There Are Events That Are Worse Than Cancer

At a neighbor’s funeral, I realized that people have their own hardships, too, and there is a time and a place to discuss my cancer diagnosis.

I don’t want to start blabbing about my faux pas of the past, but this one makes for a good lesson for many.

Once I went to my neighbor’s husband’s funeral. The deceased was the woman’s beloved spouse of over 50 years who had passed quietly from a massive heart attack in his sleep.

I didn’t know the woman well. I’d seen her frequently taking her garbage can out to the curb and watering her plants, but I’d spoken to her only a few times. Once I’d inquired about the flag flying in their yard, a banner from World War II. And another time, I’d commented how cute her cat was. She was essentially a stranger to me, one living quietly on our cul-de-sac with us. Her husband had Alzheimer’s on top of things, and she took care of him in his final days. Theirs was a true love story.

We were living two doors down, and we had our own traumas. I was experiencing two breast cancers in a period of five years, and had a whammy of a mental illness. We weren’t exactly living the life. Each day was difficult.

It came time for our neighbor’s funeral, and we knew the whole neighborhood was going, so we ended up putting on nice clothes and joining in with the rest.

The funeral took place at a fine, local funeral home.The décor was new and spanking clean; it was equipped with the ultimate in funeral technology for the time; a home movie of the deceased ran on a continuous loop on a computer screen.And there was the deceased’s face, woven into a large blanket, hanging on the wall.The whole town was there.There was the customary “sadness line,” where people stood, all in a row to explain to the deceased’s loved ones how sorry they were that the deceased had passed on.But that’s not what I focused on when I got to the front of the line.

Our neighbor said hello to us.

“Hello,” I said.

“How are you?” she asked when she was met with silence from me.

“I’ve got breast cancer,” I said.

She did not say, “I’m sorry to hear that.”In fact, she seemed a little slighted that she did not hear, “My condolences.I’m so sorry for your loss.”

I continued.“I’ve had chemo, radiation and a double mastectomy.”I was unloading on her, instead of the other way around.With cancer, you’re so overwhelmed by it that the details often pop out when you least expect it.

My husband had the wherewithal to say, “We’re sorry for your loss” and move on.

Years later, I saw the neighbor in the grocery store.

“Hello,” I said nicely.

“Hello,” she barked back to me.

“How have you been?”

All right,” she said.And you?”She seemed cold.I wondered why.

“I’ve been dealing with cancer.”

“I know.”

“How do you know?” I’d forgotten I’d told her.

“You informed me at my husband’s funeral.”

It was then that I realized I’d made a huge mistake.Funerals are supposed to be focused on the dead and the survivors, not the neighbors with messy problems.Not even big C problems.

From this event, I’ve learned a lesson. Next time at a funeral I’ll leave myself out of it and console the living and remember the dead.

There are things that “beat” cancer, not many; but with cancer, although it’s one of the worst fates, you’re not dead yet.

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