Mesothelioma Loss: ‘Celebrating’ When They’re Gone

Bruce Clark

Yes, you read that right.

If you recently lost a loved one to mesothelioma, I bet you reacted the same way I did when my husband and I pulled into the golf club to attend my brother’s memorial service two months ago.

The marquee slapped me in the face with the words: “Celebration of Life: Bruce R. Clark.” It hit me like a ton of bricks. Celebrating was the last thing I felt like doing that day.

My brother Bruce had just turned 60. Ten days following his birthday, he died unexpectedly in his sleep after an ambitious day of 18 holes of golf.

This “celebration” bore no resemblance to the joyous birthday party we had held for him only a week before, where we indeed celebrated in a way that made sense.

Celebrating at the memorial service didn’t make sense to me — at first.

Sharing Memories

The people kept coming and coming, many I didn’t know. I didn’t recognize some from our childhood until they told me their name. Person after person came to the microphone to share a memory or story about Bruce.

Maybe you have gone through this, too.

It really was a celebration. In our sadness, there was a satisfaction that his life had mattered to others besides his family.

But life goes on, and the grieving sets in. This is the time to keep up the celebration.

Finding Ways to Celebrate Loved Ones Lost

I looked up the word “celebration” in the dictionary to help my family find unique ways to celebrate the life of my brother. Some words in the extended definition stood out to me:

  • Remember
  • Observe
  • Keep
  • Memorialize
  • Commemorate
  • Mark
  • Honor

On the day after Bruce died, my three sisters went to his favorite restaurant and bought pink T-shirts with the restaurant logo on it for themselves and me. Even though we live in different locations, we wear them together on different days to remember him.

Whenever any of us see a red cardinal, a bird he admired, we observe it and think of the brother we loved so much.

My dad comes from a generation where men were taught to bury their feelings. Sharing stories about his son’s childhood comforts him and helps to keep alive his memories of Bruce. He often shares how on a chaotic road trip through Chicago, a 12-year-old Bruce navigated the family with his road map.

I bet you also have lots of similar stories.

Because Bruce liked his garage so much and spent plenty of time out there, my younger brother photocopied a picture of Bruce and hung it in his own garage to memorialize him.

At Bruce’s birthday party, we played a kid’s game of all his favorite things. We learned the rhinoceros was his favorite animal. After his death, I gave each of his three children a gold rhinoceros figurine to commemorate his love for the curious beast. What were your loved one’s favorite things?

Bruce’s birthday was April 8. I know we will forever mark that day to remember him and everything he meant to us. When it comes next year, maybe we’ll plan something special. You could do the same on your loved one’s birthday.

It’s funny how we tend to focus on the things about a living person that might annoy us. For example, when Bruce didn’t attend all our family events, we sometimes resented it. But those thoughts evaporated the day he died. We now honor him with continuous conversation about how easy going and soft spoken he was, and how we never saw him get angry.

We celebrate him often, and he remains close in thoughts of his wife, three children, parents and six siblings.

I’m sure you feel the same.

When It Comes to Grief, Silence Is Not Golden

While I am certainly no expert on grief, I have learned a lot in my short two-month journey.

  • Don’t bury your feelings.
  • Cry often. Let it out!
  • Call a family member or friend who shares your grief whenever you need to talk with someone.
  • Ask grieving family and friends how they are doing. When you’re having a good day, they might be having a bad one.
  • There will be good days and bad days. Accept them all.
  • When friends ask how you’re doing, tell them honestly. Give people an opportunity to comfort you.
  • Remember that people won’t always say the right thing, but they mean well.
  • Don’t feel pressured to go to social gatherings until you are ready. It is difficult watching people going on with their lives when you are grieving. Save yourself from it as long as you need to.
  • Having what-ifs is a normal part of grieving. Your mind will go there naturally, but eventually it will stop.
  • Talk about the loved ones you lost whenever you want. Share all the things you loved about them and feel the blessing of their presence in your life.
  • And lastly, keep celebrating them!

Grieving is not an easy process, and it may take a long time for you to process your emotions. If you’ve lost a loved one to mesothelioma, it may help to see a grief counselor or join a support group.

Nonprofit organizations such as CancerCare can connect you with these resources and provide information about how to cope with your loss in a healthy way. If you need support, don’t hesitate to speak up and seek help.


Beth Swantek has been writing professionally for 30 years. She is a former news reporter and anchor for a CBS affiliate in Michigan and often reported breaking medical and political news. Currently, she teaches media writing and video production at Lawrence Technological University in the Detroit area, as well as working as a freelance writer and producer.

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