I could see his lips moving and his eyes penetrating but I felt like I was swimming underwater.  The muffled sounds seemed far away and the x-ray the doctor was pointing to had black spots on the tailbone, elbow, neck and rib.  I drew myself above water and spoke, “Couldn’t they be arthritis?” and immediately delved backwards to the soundproof zone of denial.

I needed gulps of fresh air, but my husband and the doctor seemed to be pantomiming a conversation with one another and the pointer in the physician’s hand kept tracking from one spot to another.

Soon to be suffocating, I drew in fresh air focused on my husband’s dark eyes and bland expression, and in a revived mode asked, “Do you think those black spots could be old injuries; he used to fight as a teenager?”  I could only see the “no” shape of the lips, and I splashed underwater again.

That’s how Grief is; the morning seems typical and by noon, your world has collapsed and you are automatic members of the Cancer Club, with no initiation.  The oncologist silently chatters about treatment options, and I notice a crumb on his collar and surely hope he doesn’t operate while wearing THAT white coat.

I surface again, “Do you think the black spots might disappear by the next bone scan?” and I slapped at the engulfing waves around me while the doctor unspeakably  nodded negatively, and as I am diving to the depths of shock, surprise, fear, helplessness and unsoothable disappointment, a hole in my heart is born.

When an unwanted diagnosis is announced, it is always too early, too hard to believe, the worst timing, the most alarming moment of dark despair, unbelievable, and impossible it is happening to you.  Riveting news.  I will fight it, flee it, and face it.  Maybe all at one time or another, or simultaneously.  I will have to see how my underwater breathing goes.  Periodic resuscitation will revive me as I learn to live with cancer festering in my hunk (my husband for 36 years!).

While my grief-laden heart is rekindling, my solo swim is indisputably lonely, my lungs ache for air, and my throat gasps for survival as I splash for the miracles of today.

Karen O. Johnson 2011


Karen Johnson

Karen O. Johnson, M.Ed. began grief group counseling in 1981 with ten teens experiencing the death of a parent. Since then, she has worked with a large population of youth, families, and adults coping with loss as an individual and group counselor. Over the span of 35 years in the education industry, she has held various positions in elementary, secondary and post-secondary education including: teacher, counselor, principal, crisis team member and director and crisis line counselor and director in the Jordan, Murray, and Salt Lake School Districts in Utah, and the Texas Independent School District. Currently, Karen is the Area Chair, Lead Faculty in the Social Sciences Human Services Program at the University of Phoenix. Karen is also the founder of EveryDayGrief, LLC, a company offering seminars for helping professionals, where innovative techniques are shared to positively impact the grief journey of youth and adults. Along with counselor trainings, she runs grief support groups.

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