Scottish Daily Mail

Why is my family beset by tragedy?


DEAR BEL I AM 66 and led an ordinary happy life until I was 50. All that changed in 1977 when my husband died suddenly of cancer. We had been married for 30 years.

Our three daughters and I were devastated, but rallied round and became closer than before. Life carried on, albeit very differentl­y.

My daughters are now 43, 41 and 35, the two eldest are married with three sons between them. Nearly three years ago my el dest daughter’s son, then seven, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia.

After gruelling chemothera­py, a brief remission, then a relapse, he had a stem cell transplant. He is now ten, attends hospital regularly, but is never out of the woods. Still, we have all rallied round again and helped whenever possible. His mother has been wonderful and never left his side during months of treatment.

But unbelievab­ly, following a recent scan and tests, she has now been diagnosed with cancer, this time lymphoma.

How can life be this cruel? I don’t know which way to turn and though I have good friends, none has experience­d anything like this.

Obviously, I shall be there for the family, and help whenever I can, but it is so hard to be strong for everyone, especially as I have no husband at my side.

I am not l ooking f or sympathy, but wondered if there was any group offering support for someone in my position (not via the internet, as I am not proficient). Thank you for reading.


Sympathy is the very least anyone can give you, Susan, as well as heartfelt wishes t hat you can continue to find the inner power needed to deal with what has happened to your family. you have suffered great loss and then the trauma of serious illness — now for the second time. many books on my shelves wrestle with the ancient dilemma of why bad things happen to good people, and no philosophe­r or theologian has the answer.

the despairing question, ‘Why?’ can only be countered with the quietly sorrowful, but accepting, Zen-like counter-question, ‘Why not?’ that was the mantra that helped me through 20 years of hospital visits with my sick daughter; I would look around at the other parents and realise that we are — truly — all in this together.

the closeness of your family is a blessing and I have no doubt that you will all go on helping each other. But as mother and grandmothe­r, you must take particular care of yourself and not neglect whatever occasional treats please you, whether a facial (my own favourite relaxation) or regular coffee with a good friend.

Even if your friends haven’t had the same experience­s, they can help you with kind words — but some laughter as well. and they will understand when you stamp your feet crying that the whole thing is just too bloody unfair.

to address your closing question — you must surely already know about the wonderful services offered by the macmillan Family Support team, based at the macmillan Unit in Christchur­ch hospital, near Bournemout­h. (Readers in a similar position should look at the macmillan website for local services — or use the free support line for everyone, including families, affected by cancer: 0808 808 00 00.)

I see there is a beautiful garden there, and another haven of peace i s the multidenom­inational chapel, next to the Unit. you need to take quiet time out, to breathe deeply and regain calm strength.

Do you ever go to church? Even if you are not a believer, talking to people at your parish church can be a wonderful support. In this secular age, there is still a profound need for spiritual sustenance, especially when we are trying to make sense of life-changing events.

If you are angry, that has to be dealt with — and sometimes becoming absolutely furious with a doubted God can be cathartic. and, by the way, I believe you can gain great solace in the middle of a field or by a river, humbled and uplifted by the beauty of the natural world, which will (by hook or by crook) be continuing its cycles of regenerati­on when we have long gone. I wish you strength.

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