When Cancer Forces You to Say Goodbye

Women on a Swing Enjoying the Sunset

It sure is difficult to say goodbye.

I recently traveled to northern Michigan to lay a friend to rest after a protracted cancer battle. The trip came just six months after I went to Michigan to say goodbye to another friend, who also had lost her fight with cancer. Both women were in their 30s, both married, and both leave two young children. These were incredible women of love who lived remarkable lives, showing a kindness to others that is indeed rare. And we all knew each other in college.

On the eve of my 36th birthday, I am left with a long list of questions — and much sadness.

Reflecting on Life and Death

When mesothelioma is the cancer that takes someone from us, the victim often is older. But I’m convinced the pain is similar. Something outside of your control has taken someone you love away from you.

Funerals and memorial services force you to reflect on life and death. They prompt you to stop everything for a few hours, and sit with your emotions. They force you to cry – and cry out to God, whether or not you believe in Him.

Mourning tends to put everything into perspective.

During my recent trip, I was humbled to admit to myself that I had worried about my makeup and clothes while preparing for the service. And yet my makeup was nothing more than a memory after just a few minutes of tears.

The clothes? I’m fairly certain not a single person noticed – and I’m glad. Saying goodbye has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with the person who has left us.

‘I’ll Have Her with Me Always’

My friend’s husband gave a moving eulogy at the recent service. His wisdom and insights can teach us all to hold our loved ones a little closer today, while they are still here with us. And his thoughts can help us move on, when they are gone.

Here is a portion of his eulogy. However, I omitted his wife’s name to protect their privacy:

“[My wife] had cancer for nine of the eleven years that we were married. Sometimes we went years without treatment or new cancers and we always had hope that she would beat the next one like she had the last. She had done it so many times, it seemed almost routine. But even in our best years, the thought of losing [my wife] was never far from my mind.

“The way I learned to cope with this disturbing thought when it appeared, was to tell myself, ‘You don’t have to think about this now. She’s here now.’ So I would keep repeating those words until I stopped feeling like I was going to cry, then I would find her and kiss her and hold on to her and tell her how much I loved her. I did this often: sometimes once a day, sometimes many.

“If you imagine that you’ll lose your lover once, it provides you with perspective and appreciation for your love for them. When you do it a thousand times, when you do it every day, every time you look at them, when you do it for years at a time, that love becomes so much a part of you that even the thought of that person gives you this enormous feeling of lightness.

“Even though she’s gone, [my wife’s] love is a warm, bright ball of light burning at the center of me that can never be extinguished. Even though I don’t have her now, even though I can’t touch her and hug her and kiss her, I can feel her warm embrace around the center of me, I can feel her sweet kisses like flashes of light from inside me. In this way, I’ll have her with me always.”

Moving Through Your Grief

His words helped me recognize that my friend’s spirit of kindness and love will remain with us forever, and we can keep her memory alive by showing kindness and love to others.

If you still have your loved one here with you, I hope you will hug them a bit tighter today and tell them how much you love them — over and over and over.

But if your loved one has passed, I hope my friend’s words will help you heal and recognize that your loved one’s warmth will live inside you forever — never to be extinguished.

In loving memory of two dear friends.


Jennifer Mia has been writing and editing for more than 15 years. She has worked for newspapers, magazines and online publications. When she was in college, she lost a brother to cancer, and now she writes blogs for The Mesothelioma Center. Jennifer hopes that her writing brings some small amount of hope and healing to the many men and women who are forced to deal with this horrible cancer.

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