Skip to Content

Lessons Learned in Grief

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was November 30, 2014 — my dad’s 57th birthday. I called to wish him the happiest day ever. But it wasn’t the happiest day ever. In fact, it was the worst day of my life (at that point) and in a matter of minutes my entire world crumbled into pieces as my dad bravely delivered the news that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung, brain, spine and adrenal gland cancer…and that it was not curable. And so November 30, 2014 marked the first day of my grief journey.

Lessons Learned in Grief

Throughout the next 5 years I would beg and plead for prayers as I shared a few positive updates as well as an avalanche of sad news. And I would receive a flood of emails from readers who either had already lost a parent or were in the process of losing a parent. I would cry over my keyboard with them, pray for them and ask them if I would ever be OK again. These people got it and could empathize with the unimaginable, mind-blowing pain I was experiencing. But despite the overwhelming number of emails I would receive over the years, I know there are many others who are also on this journey who I haven’t connected with. So in hopes that I can help even one more person not feel alone, I wanted to share a few lessons I’ve learned so far on my grief journey.

Grief begins at diagnosis, not death

In those early years I was so consumed with cheerleading for dad and fervently praying for a healing miracle, that I didn’t realize I was actually grieving deep down. I couldn’t identify the grief because it didn’t make sense to grieve while dad was still with us. But silently I was grieving the loss of normalcy for our family. I was grieving the loss of dad’s features — his ginormous belly, his quick wit, his hair, his beautiful tan skin from decades of surfing and more. I was grieving our usual conversations about the size of the waves he surfed that day or the exciting project he was building at work — our new conversations were filled with updates on his latest scan, blood test results, awful chemo side effects and other reminders that life was now different. I was grieving over the appearance of walkers, and then wheelchairs and then a hospital bed. Grief shows up early and…

Grief doesn’t go away

One of the hardest things to grasp is how life keeps going…and the sadness just comes along with you. Many people around you will move on, while you’re still feeling all the feelings. Trauma is a lonely experience. Even if you share suffering with others, no one else will be able to fully walk the road with you the whole way. But I hear it gets easier as you learn to incorporate your loss into your life. I still cry in my car, in the shower and sometimes even at my office. I still feel unpredictable pangs of sadness while making dinner, going on walks with the kids, seeing a red bird in the yard and being by the ocean. My therapist would explain the “stages of grief,” which apparently are no longer stops on a linear timeline. Instead the new model is more like a tornado that you cycle through in no prescribed order and you can be stuck in any stage for an unpredictable amount of time.

Grief is exhausting

Grief will physically run you down, stress you out and sometimes make even the most routine tasks like writing a grocery list, running a meeting, making dinner or folding laundry difficult to accomplish. For years I felt (and still feel) like I was hanging by a thread, my patience permanently thin and my anxiety over when and what the next call would bring had me constantly on edge. There were days I felt like my insides had completely evaporated and I was just a fragile shell of a human trying to make it through lunchtime without a panic attack, an ugly meltdown or getting physically ill. Although it feels impossible, you have to take care of yourself.

Your spouse is grieving too

Written by Matt

Christina and I had only been married 3 years when we learned that Mr. Sandroni had been diagnosed with cancer. Caroline was about to turn 7 months old. We had just celebrated Thanksgiving. Over the next 4.5 years I saw a man I knew to be full of energy, kindness, and humor slowly fade away. I saw my daughter, and ultimately my son, interact with a loving man that they would really never get to experience and know. It was a very difficult time and still has its difficulties.

I learned a lot of lessons during the 4.5 years Mr. Sandroni battled cancer. When to say something, when not to say something, when only to listen, when to help, when to offer help, when not to help, when to ask friends for help, when to give her space, when to put life on hold, and when to say “yes” when you otherwise would have said “no” and being okay with that. My advice is to try your best to figure out what love and support really means to your spouse during this time, while realizing that it may change fairly often.

However, the most important “lessons” I learned during this time of grief were of my wife. I learned that she is far stronger than I thought she was. I learned that she is more caring and selfless than I thought she was. I learned just how priceless family is to her. I learned that she has no limits to what she would do for her family. I learned that she will always look for positive aspects in difficult times. I learned how often she puts me first. I learned how much I love her and how much she loves me. In addition to Mr. Sandroni’s cancer, during the same 4.5 years, we also endured the deaths of our grandparents, Christina’s surgeries, and Thomas’s unexpected medical condition. As cliché as it is, I learned that we can get through very difficult times together and as a family.

You May Want to Read Next: Lessons Learned in Grief Part 2

North Carolina lifestyle blogger, Christina shares the lessons learned in grief.  A post from a husband & wife perspective after the loss of a parent!

You'll also love

Abbi Hearne

Saturday 29th of June 2019

My dad was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer in August 2018. Your posts, your honest thoughts and experiences, and now this, have been so huge and meaningful to me. Thank you. I can't thank you enough for this honesty and openness in the grief journey. Grief begins at diagnosis.


Friday 28th of June 2019

Thank you for writing this. I’ve followed along since you were pregnant with Caroline because I was pregnant with my first too! I also lost my dad 7 months ago to cancer. And you’re so right! You do start grieving when you get that diagnosis (even if you don’t realize it). I also loved reading Matt’s perspective (I’m married to a Matt too ) haha. It’s nice to see how the partner is affected as well. Thanks for being so open and honest. Sending hugs. Also this girl Heather McMahan (on Instagram) did a podcast about loosing her dad and grief and it hit home, if you ever want to listen to it :) she finds humor in it too which is nice.


Friday 28th of June 2019

Beautifully written. I agree with someone above that you all still did a wonderful job of living and continuing on despite the heart wrenching news . There were A LOT of genuine smiles shared as a family in those 5 years. I didn't know your dad but he was obviously a strong man to fight the fight he did for that long with quite the diagnosis. It's not far that someone so amazing has to be taken so soon. I love that you have so many memories to hold onto. Those memories and pictures being filled with smiles.....hard times as well but SO many smiles. You and Matt are incredible parents.

P.S. I live in MO. No beaches around at all. Earlier this week while in traffic on the way home from work I saw an SUV with a surfboard on top. That is obviously not something we see here.....ever. Without hesitation I immediately thought of your dad. I hadn't read your blog that day nor was I even thinking about you all. Your words, your story, your amazing way to connect with strangers is truly amazing. I think and pray for you often.


Thursday 27th of June 2019

Thank you for sharing. I identify completely with everything you wrote. I remember the exact date my grief journey began: April 6, 2017, the day we learned my mom had glioblastoma grade 4 brain cancer. There have been days I thought I was "fine" and other days where I feel like my heart will stop. After being somewhat "stable" after her diagnosis, the last six months have seen my mom steadily declining. Each week is worse and worse. She is now immobile in a wheelchair. This will never be easy no matter how prepared I think I can be. It's definitely a new normal for us. God bless and thanks again for writing this--it came at just the right time as I've been feeling particularly sad today.


Thursday 27th of June 2019

My mom is also dealing with a glioblastoma diagnosis and I couldn’t relate more to the statement that grief begins with the diagnosis. Each stage is difficult in its own way. One podcast that recently helped me was Built to Withstand by Joel Osteen. It gets a bit repetitive but the message gave me some peace.

Cristina I pray for you and your family and it’s not fair all that you’ve been through. But your not alone. Thank you for reminding me that I’m not alone either.


Thursday 27th of June 2019

Tears rolling down my face... I lost my dad two years ago after a long and very ugly medical condition. Most of the time I am fine, but then out of nowhere it still hits me.. I haven't seen my dad in two years. That will never NOT be hard. Sending you love and peace in your grief journey.