COMING TO TERMS WITH A death that was preventable

PS's wife was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. When CS screwed up the courage to ask, doctors informed her that the survival rate was only 5%, but she might have four to five years. Until the bitter end, she believed she would be one of the 5%. Eighteen months after diagnosis, she was dead.

From the moment they learned of her illness, she and PS took advantage of every form of treatment imaginable - chemotherapy, radiation, drugs, and experimental therapies at one of the top hospitals in the nation; holistic approaches and faith healing. None of it made any difference. But at least they both knew they had done everything possible to try to save her life.

In my husband's case, proper testing, diagnosis and medical treatment could have prevented his death.

I don't think the extent of PS's suffering was any less, or more than mine - it was just different.

When a death is probably preventable - as in misdiagnosis, suicide, and industrial or car accidents - the survivors must deal with special challenges that can impede healing. For example, guilt can be overpowering. We are left constantly wondering "what if," or "if only."

The challenge is especially difficult when the death is untimely. It is probably always too soon to lose someone you dearly love. But when a person in their 90's passes away, the realization that at least they lived a long life may assist with accepting the loss. It seems more natural, even though we miss the person just as much. When someone dies young, it is hard in a different way. There is the pain of knowing all they will miss in life.

But knowing that it didn't have to end this way - that is the special hell in which we dwell. If we allow ourselves to do so.

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers on how to stop the pain that survivors of any death experience. Healing rituals, bereavement support groups and grief counseling, reading, faith, crying, and the support of family and friends help to some extent.

It may also help to:

  • allow yourself to feel gratitude for the time you did have
  • focus on what you do not regret
  • realize that, unlike you, they will not have to suffer the pain of growing old, or of experiencing the loss of loved ones passing away, one by one.
  • know that they will be forever young.




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