Pausing My Life, Part One

Do you ever feel like you need to take a break from your life?

Just press the pause button, sit back with your coffee or tea cup and turn everything off for an hour?

No phones, internet, television or other “urgencies.”

Last year, I took on a high stress position. My boss, whom I got on with really well, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and she had decided that she wouldn’t take life-extending treatment, as those treatments would interfere with her life quality. She just wanted to keep going to work and living her regular life as long as she could.

I was her number one, the “safety” person who could temporarily take over and run things when she wasn’t feeling up to it.

As time went on, I did more and more of her job as well as my own. It became almost hellishly stressful, especially when my boss suddenly decided that her cancer was cured.

When that happened, I knew that the efficient, I-am-taking-this-in-stride-it’s-part-of-life portrait she was presenting to the world was a big pile of … something.

Day-by-day as I watched her deteriorate, she explained how certain things happening to her – such as the swelling lymph nodes that began to bother her – were signs that her body was expelling the cancer.

She was so invested that I just went along with her.

But when she started convincing other colleagues that she was getting better, and they started believing it, I wasn’t so sure. But still, I said nothing. And besides, it wasn’t my place to say anything anyway.

Then it became worse. Her decisions started to become questionable, and when I tried to offer alternatives and/or cautions, I was met with an incredible wall of stubbornness that I hadn’t encountered before.

I suspected that the cancer either had metastasised to her brain or the stress of presenting a picture of recovering health was just too much.

Maybe it was both.

But the fact was that she was acting out of character and I began worrying about the fallout. Her behaviour was beginning to have a negative impact on our workplace. At that time, the impact was small, but I knew it would become larger.

I saw what she was doing; that she was attempting to think positively in order to remain hopeful of a remission. But her version of that had turned into a very serious case of denial, and that denial was affecting everyone around her.

So, taking a break from my life? Pressing pause and just taking a breath? Right then, I probably would have given an arm for that.

Have you ever felt that way?

Should we say anything to those who are in denial?

What do you think?

Stay tuned for part two …

47 thoughts on “Pausing My Life, Part One”

  1. My friend did exactly the same thing. Even when she was in a hospice and I had bought her a star for her last birthday, I was the one friend she would not allow to admit she was dying, even on the day before she died. It was really hard but I figured she needed me to believe she was going to get better.One of my last memories is of her being force fed cake she clearly did not want. It haunted me for ages.

      1. I read a lovely article about what people needed while in hospice care. Ironically one of the things was fresh baking, but I always left it up to her whether she wanted to eat things or not. We would still find things to laugh at occasionally. I knew how much she loved Christmas, so I had encouraged the decoration of her room. She would give me little requests and I had done my best to make it happen for her. We still managed to have the occasional giggle despite everything, when she was awake. The hospice was lovely. The staff took great care of her. Very special people.

  2. This is a sad story, Lynette. No doubt it was extremely difficult for you both professionally and personally. I’ll admit, if I were in your bosses shoes, I might sink into a state of denial…but it’s hard to say until it’s your own life.

    1. It was, Jill. Very difficult.

      I have watched loved ones die, including both my parents and my sister, but I had never encountered this level of denial before. It was really profound.
      Thanks for your comment. 🙂

  3. Sorry to hear what you are going through right now, Lynette. Agree that until it is our turn, we do not know how we will handle. In my past experiences where people have been denying reality, I have had to fight the urge to speak up to try to change their minds. Sometimes it is better to listen, rather than to offer advice. As to taking a break, my desire is to take a break from trying to carry other people’s burdens. We just came through such a situation and it can be exhausting, both mentally and physically. Stay strong. Allan

    1. Thanks for your kind comments, Allan – much appreciated.
      It’s over now as she passed away last August; part two is about what happened then and the later fallout that is finally starting to taper off. My workplace is starting to recover but it has been a hard road.
      True – we don’t know how we will react, but I had never seen this degree of denial before. It was bordering on delusional. I agree that it is sometimes just better to listen, and as to her health, that’s what I did. The workplace took a terrible hit though.
      I’m sorry to hear that you have just been through something similar. It IS exhausting. Try to be good to yourself as you recover.

  4. Oh, how sad, Lynette. It sounds as though you’ve been through such a stressful time. None of us can know what your boss was going through emotionally unless we were in the same situation. Well done to you for holding it together through this very difficult time. xx

    1. Thank you for your kind comments – very appreciated.

      No, one one can really know what she was going through.

      It has been very stressful, still is, but my workplace is starting to recover.

  5. I pushed pause back in 1990…….and haven’t touched it since. Cancer is something that permeates our society. Having it would traumatize ones perspective and cause such stress. Denial might be a form of dealing with it as best they can at that moment? We each are affected.

    1. Yes – you did press pause. 🙂

      Yes, cancer can really traumatise and cause all sorts of reactions – we are human and subject to all of the reactions humans can have. I do think her denial was how she handled it, but it had a terrible impact and I’m still not completely sure how I feel about that.

        1. Thanks Wayne. 🙂 I have been sad and angry at the same time but I have also argued with myself about those feelings. My colleagues were badly affected as well and I’ve been angry about that too.

          1. we can only truly understand someone by walking in their shoes.We each are different and so react differently to the same situation. Both my mother and father died of cancer. Each of my brothers and sisters reacted differently.
            Just understand how you feel inside about this firstly.

  6. Whoa. This really is a tough situation. In wanting to be compassionate, how do you tell her or anyone else that her sickness is causing difficulty at work? Not to mention the denial. I really don’t know what I’d do. It must be so sad and stressful all at once. I wouldn’t blame you at all if your own emotions were going haywire from this situation. I’m glad you’re taking a pause/break from it right now. I hope it helps.

    When my father-in-law was sick and dying, my mother-in-law (MIL) was in denial. He needed daily medication to stay alive, and she would stop giving it to him because she said he was “getting better.” He landed in the ER three times because of her denial in giving him his meds. The reason he seemed better every time was BECAUSE of the meds. My MIL was a person who went beyond “rose-colored glasses.” She was in a total fantasy world.

    Since my MIL was family, we were able to talk stern reality with her, but she still did whatever she pleased. I know that with that woman who is your boss, there is probably a fine line you have to walk between denial and reality.

    1. It has been really tough and I wasn’t at all sure what to do. I did take a break but am back at work now. Things at my workplace are finally levelling out but it has been a really difficult road.
      I very much liked my boss and I really felt for her and her situation, but the impact she began to have on our workplace was so bad, and it was so hard to know what to do. Her denial was almost delusional, and if she had been a relative, I probably would have tried to be stern as well. But this situation was different. She passed away last August, and we are only just getting things back together.

  7. Fascinating post! I am looking forward to the second part.

    I’ve known people who died in denial they were dying. I can’t actually fault them since I haven’t been there myself, and I’m not sure I’d even if I had been there. But it’s curious. And there’s something terribly human in denying reality.

    My next door neighbor died a bit over three years ago of cancer. She was an end-of-life nurse and seen a lot of dying herself. It sounds strange to say this, but she set an example I hope to emulate.

    I wrote a poem about her as a celebration of her — and not just her dying. For reasons that become obvious at the end, the poem is packed with jokes. It’s a long poem. I would not expect to read it. But if you want to here’s the link:

    If you read it and don’t like it, I will fully refund your laughter.

    1. I really enjoyed your poem – poignant and funny and honest. Thanks for sharing it. 🙂

      I had not ever experienced this level of denial before; I felt that it was close to being delusional. As I indicated, this had quite an impact on my workplace, but we’re slowly getting past it.

      Yes, denying reality is very human – our thirsts are not easily quenched.

  8. Hello Lynette,
    So sorry to hear about your friend. I can feel the dilemma you are going through. It’s so much true that one can’t imagine the pain and agony of a suffering person until we ourselves face the same. But I strongly believe that caretakers also need help as they are equally stressful mentally and physically. You help your friend as much as you can in your capacity otherwise later you will be suffering a lot from the guilt. God bless you with more peace and happiness.

    1. Thank you so much for your very kind comments Deeksha. It hasn’t been easy. But she passed last August and her pain is gone.

      I agree that caretakers need care as well. It’s such a demanding job.

      1. So true, patient is under care of doctor’s team, friends and family members .. but caretakers alone suffer so much physical and emotional trauma…. along with their job and family…. In hospitals there should be rehab centers or some therapy for them too.

          1. Oh, I can imagine it would be so stressful for you and for her also.
            Certain incidents teach us a lot… probably these things happen to test our limits…!

  9. I completely understand the confusion caused by your friend’s denial dear Lynette. On a personal level it is best to go along with her wishes, but the business is a completely different kettle of fish. So sorry to read of the loss of your friend ❤

    1. Thank you for your kind comment Ralph. ❤ I agree that it is so confusing. Yes, on a personal level it’s best to let the ill person decide how it should be handled. But at work it was a balancing act of enormous proportions.

  10. I lost my daughter to breast cancer, 2011 after a very long battle. Her strength was amazing to the very end, when she said it’s time to go. Part 2, I’ll be waiting to read

  11. Yes, I most definitely know about needing to take a break.

    I will be keeping your boss in my prayers. What she is going through is almost unimaginable.

    ❤ xoxox

      1. Oh! I didn’t realize … I thought this was a more recent thing. I’m so sorry for your loss – I could tell that she was someone you cared about a great deal. ❤ *hugs*

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