Welcome breast cancer sisters, family and friends. We hope to make this chapter of your life a little easier, treatment less difficult, help families cope, provide inspiration and guide you to a new place of strength and purpose.

Surviving Life

©Brenda Coffee. All rights reserved.

If you think about it, most of us have been surviving something our entire lives. Maybe it started with a domineering parent, a bully on the school ground, sexual abuse, job, race or sexual discrimination, diagnosis and treatment of a serious illness, or losing a loved one. Eventually, most of us find our way through these things and find new ways to survive. I’m in that mode again, surviving James’ death, trying to figure who I’ll be without him, without us being James and Brenda, and someday getting to the point where I can make my way to my new normal.

This week I started a six-week grief class. So far all we’ve done is introduce ourselves and tell a little bit about the person in our life who died. There are some in the class who’ve actively been holding on to their grief for years, and that scares me: the thought of staying in this pain, forever. They are examples of what awaits me if I do the same, paralyzed people, seemingly lost and destroyed in webs of “what if’s.”

One thing I’m learning is there are no rules for grieving. Sometimes I’m scary calm and then, like last night, my loss is almost too great to handle. I buried my face in James’ leather recliner, sniffing it, hoping to find some trace of his familiar smell, but there was only a hint. Just enough to make me cling to his chair like a life preserver. Five days ago, Molly stood in front of the same chair, placed her paw on the seat and stared at me. Like Molly, I wanted to drag my bed across the room until it was positioned at the foot of his chair and lie down. Instead, I put my face where his head had been and curled into a ball. A primal cry started deep inside me, gathering my grief as it built, until a guttural sound came forth that made Molly get up and run to the other side of the room. Over and over, I asked James, I asked God, “Why? Tell me why? I need to know.”

My hardest time is in the mornings. The alarm goes off and the first thing that hits me is James is not here. I don’t even want to open my eyes. I called his office the other day, and as it rang, I noticed my phone said, “Calling James Coffee.” I loved seeing his name in print.

The other day I had a conversation with a friend about couples in restaurants that sit there, for the entire meal, not talking to one another. They might as well be at a table for one. James and I used to feel sorry for them. How terrible and desperately alone must it be to share a house and a table with someone and have nothing to say to one another? James and I never ran out of things to say or ask each other about, plus we had our own little comedy act. We laughed a lot.

I loved that he allowed me to be a bimbo. I’ve always been the smart girl, the capable girl, the woman who runs companies, confronts drug dealers and armed assassins, who at one point, drove, flew, landed on and submerged in, most every piece of military equipment known to man; the woman who can, and has, survived more than I ever thought possible. With James, however, I was his “girl baby,” his “Brenda baby.” I could relax and let my ditzy side show. He loved it and was entertained by it.

This survivorship thing… I know how to do this. I know this raw feeling will eventually pass. A scab will form over my wound, and along with the scar, I will begin to find my new normal. I also know many of you are hurting and grieving about something or someone in your life. You’ve lost loved ones, have been diagnosed with cancer, or have had a recurrence. You’re broken-hearted, and you’re scared. I also know the only way to get past our pain is to walk through it. We can’t deny it, and we can’t hide from it, because it will find us. We must let the tears go; call on God, family and friends, get counseling and second opinions, decide on a course of action, do all those things that are in our best interest to survive and move forward.

No one said surviving would be easy, but I’m here, with you, trying to find my compass and map out a new course, a way to walk through this part of my life and survive. Thank you, sweet friends, for being so caring and supportive of me during this time. Your response to my blog has been overwhelming and I pray, in some small way, I am there for you as you have been here for me. Life is in the here and now. We must find ways to live it!