Cancer In Young Adults ... Through Parents’ Eyes

Cancer in Young Adults: Through Parents’ Eyes

8. The emotional challenge

Cancer in Young Adults

The narratives indicate that while, predictably, immense pain is apparent in every case, the parents seek and on occasions find comfort in different ways. Some find support through continued contact or volunteer work with the hospices where their children have been cared for, others seek support from families who have experienced similar problems. Others seek ‘normality’. Yet these needs may change across time, between different people and between couples; neither are they linear. Rather, there are signs of ‘progress’ interspersed by many relapses. Some parents have even found the passing of time and distance problematic in that they feel a separation from their lost child, and expectations that they should have ‘moved on’ prove unrealistic. The phrase ‘roller coaster of emotions’ has been used by several of the respondents and this seems significant.

Many of the parents have spoken about the impossibility of anyone who has not experienced the death or life-threatening illness of a child understanding their pain. Rosenblatt, (2000b) who through an analysis of narratives from bereaved parents identifies what he calls a ‘chasm’ between bereaved parents and other people, documents this phenomenon. He suggests that there is an assumption by others that parents will get over their grief quickly and that this lack of understanding helps to maintain the chasm. Bereaved parents, according to Rosenblatt, are engulfed by devastating feelings that make everyone who does not share those feelings seem distant and uncaring.

The narratives also suggest that spirituality has been of enormous help to some respondents, while others have felt anger with a God who could allow such pain and loss. Such differential responses are also documented by Rosenblatt (2000b) who cites narratives from parents who have felt that God has helped them to find peace, meaning and hope. One respondent said that you could still be angry with God even while keeping your faith (2000a:216). However, in contrast, many parents’ narratives in Rosenblatt’s book dealt with the challenge the death had posed to their religious beliefs. They could not believe that a God who was just, wise, compassionate and all-powerful, could allow their child to die. As we can see Rosenblatt’s work in this area (2000a, 2000b) has covered many of the same issues and made similar observations, unrelated to the age of the lost child.

You might ask ‘what has this to do with ‘life-stage?’ After all, the difficulties, emotions, pain and anguish expressed by the respondents might apply to the loss of a child at any age. However, what the preceding discussion of the issues has established is that the parents of young adults with cancer face some quite specific problems that exacerbate the pain that would be felt at the loss of a child not within this age group.