June 17, 2021
In January 1964, Richard “Rick” Kline met his soulmate. In June 2020, his soulmate succumbed to cancer. How would he survive the loss of over 56 years of companionship? How would he preserve the legacy of his beloved Martha?
Rick and Martha “Martie” made a home for themselves and their two children in Anderson, Ohio. They lived a full life with friends, travel, and eventually seven grandchildren. “Martie was the best thing that happened to me,” said Rick. “She lived better than anyone I know.”
In 2008, Martie was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma which morphed into diffuse large B-cell lymphoma after about four-to-five years of remission. Martie had a stem cell transplant under the direction of OHC’s James H. Essell, MD, medical oncologist, hematologist, blood and marrow transplant specialist, and cellular therapy expert. “We were in awe of Dr. Essell’s extensive expertise,” said Rick. “I always joked with him that Martie loved him more than she loved me.” When Martie was later diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2019, OHC began discussing palliative care with the Klines.
“Through it all, Martie was an angel,” said Rick. “She maintained her sense of humor.” Rick laughs as he recalls Martie’s reaction to her COVID test shortly before her passing. “I couldn’t be in the ER with her because of COVID, but she texted me after the test: Up my nose with a rubber hose,” added Rick. Sadly, Martie’s infection was not treatable, and she passed away in her home in June 2020.
Tammy Miller-Ploetz, LISW-S, a local expert and member of the clinical staff of Cancer Family Care, an organization dedicated to the emotional support of anyone touched by cancer, defines grief as a response to loss. She explains that grieving typically begins at the time of diagnosis when caregivers feel loss as their loved ones begin to lose pieces of themselves—their hair, their quality of life, pieces of who they once were. “This anticipatory grief that caregivers experience throughout the course of their loved one’s illness does help with the grief following death,” said Tammy. “Many people feel that grieving is selfish because they are focused on something they lost,” she added. “It’s important to allow ourselves to grieve because if we don’t go through the process, we can suffer with other mental health issues.”
The grieving process is comprised of several phases including shock, denial, anger, depression, and acceptance. Because grief is very individual, everyone transitions through them differently. “Moving through these phases is not always a linear process,” noted Tammy. “We can get stuck in one phase and move backwards. And, we don’t always move through the phases as quickly as we want to.”
Tammy emphasizes the importance of having a good support system while grieving. “Isolation often causes setbacks in the grieving process,” said Tammy. She refers to the “after the casseroles are gone” period as the challenging time when people stop checking in as frequently or begin to negate your grief. It is important to process feelings and share them with those supporting you. Keeping them to yourself is isolating because you are alone with your feelings.
When Rick recalls Martie, he remembers her tremendous strength. “I cope by trying to live my best life as I want to be better for her,” said Rick. “I also find it helpful to stay busy. I’m very involved with my family, business, and philanthropy,” he added.
While adjusting to the “new normal” after loss, Tammy recommends trusting in the bereavement process and reminding yourself that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. She reassures those experiencing loss that it is survivable. They will experience a satisfying life even though things may seem hopeless at times. While there is no timeline for the grieving process, the first year after the loss is typically a fog. During the second year, people typically discover a new equilibrium.
“We can learn a lot about how to grieve from children,” advised Tammy. “Children have an authentic way of grieving. They are raw, basic, and honest with their feelings. Adults have learned defense mechanisms to cover up their feelings.”
It is only natural that special anniversaries, holidays, and certain sights and smells will bring back grief. To honor these moments while preserving your loved one’s memory, Tammy offers these helpful tips:
- Affirm that these moments are delicate and allow yourself to have strong feelings.
- Have a plan. Ask yourself what you are going to do to make the occasion special—make a new tradition, watch your loved one’s favorite movie or eat their favorite cake, set a place for them at the table. They deserve a place in the home.
- Don’t ignore these times. Discuss them with your family.
- Tammy’s greatest advice: Make a photo album with various pictures of your loved one’s life. This is particularly important for those who watched their loved one decline or witnessed their death. These experiences cause caregiver trauma that must be processed before grief can begin. Caregivers have a snapshot in their mind of their loved one sick, declining, and dying. Replace these snapshots with healthy images in photo albums and look through them.
Planning a party for what would have been Martie’s 76th birthday helped Rick cope. “I gathered the entire family and we didn’t mourn. We wanted to have a celebration, to celebrate Martie.”
For those seeking group support, Tammy recommends bereavement support groups like those offered by Cancer Family Care. Cancer Family Care also offers individual and family counseling and does group work for children. Online groups are appropriate if they are run by a licensed professional. Other helpful coping tips include:
- Engaging in hobbies that you might have put on the back burner
- Accepting all invitations
- Reaching out to friends and extending invites at least once a week
Rick recently imparted these words of advice to a friend who learned his wife had cancer: Live for today. Savor your time together. Many people don’t understand that this is harder on the caregiver than it is for the person with the illness. Have a sense of humor and let your faith sustain you.
OHC supports its patients, family members, and caregivers by connecting them to a variety of cancer-specific organizations that offer individual and group support, social gatherings, and educational resources. For a listing of community resources, follow this link: http://ohcare.com/patient-resources/community-support-resources/.
Pictured above: Rick and Martie enjoy a special evening on one of their many cruise vacations.Comments (0)