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10 Life Lessons Only People who’ve Lost a Loved One to Cancer Know So Well

10 Life Lessons Only People who’ve Lost a Loved One to Cancer Know So Well

This story is sad. This story is dreadful. This story is tragic. But it is real. And as sad as the story is, it happens all over the world to people indiscriminately—so many times that not many care to keep count.

According to the World Health Organization, there were 8.2 million cancer related deaths in 2012, with the number of new cases expected to rise by about 70% over the next 2 decades. Here are ten life lessons only people who have lost a loved one to cancer know so well.

1. Life is precious and fleeting.

Anyone who’s walked ‘through the valley of the shadow of death’ can attest to how precious and fleeting life is. You are here today and gone tomorrow. My father was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer in January, when I was 17. By April of the same year, he was dead. Let me just say watching someone you love so much slowly wither away and die young (my father was supposed to turn 46 later that year) is no joke. The emotional enormity of the experience, its absolute finality—it breaks you.

2. The words “I love you” mean more when said to a loved one when they are still alive.

The most beautiful words are often spoken when someone has passed away. But, why wait until it’s too late? I never told my father how much I loved him, or even how much he meant to me when he was still alive. I was a stubborn teenager who rarely verbalized my true feelings or said thoughtful words to those I loved—until, as first born, I was required to help draft my father’s eulogy. Sadly, many people are like that (stubborn and unloving) well past their rebellious teen years.

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Surely your loved one doesn’t have to be on their deathbed for you to say something wonderful to them. Say you love them today and show it in a thousand different ways. As terrifying as it may be, tell them. Seriously, why wait until they die to tell them you love them when you can tell them now?

3. A “Thank you” is more significant if a loved one can hear it and respond.

The day my father died of cancer of the liver was my brother’s birthday. He looked calm and happy lying on the hospital bed when he asked my brother and I to go celebrate the birthday rather than stay at the hospital. I can’t recall if we thanked him for letting us leave early, but we ran out of the hospital to celebrate. That same night, around 8 pm, while we were playing video games, my father passed on. I wish we had been more deliberate in saying thank you to dad for being so loving and thoughtful, even on his sick bed.

Don’t wait to say, “thank you.” Surprise someone you care about with these beautiful words before it’s too late. Let those you love know you are thankful for everything they’ve done for you. Make sure they understand that you appreciate them – that you are grateful for the good memories and continued love they show you even when you aren’t very loveable.

4. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

The pain and sense of loss I felt when my father died is unparalleled. I reached rock bottom. I was in the deepest, darkest pit of misery and hopelessness. I can’t possibly fall any farther than that. Even if (God forbid) I lost my wife, my daughter, and my mom all at once (all of whom I love with all my heart and soul and might), I cannot feel such depth and raw pain as I felt when cancer ripped my father from our family. It was my maiden encounter with real pain—a baptism of fire. Now nothing can break me—death can’t break me. I am strong. I have survived the horror of watching someone I love dearly die a slow, agonizing death.

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Cancer does that to you. You know what you’ve been through, and you’re stronger for it. You live in constant gratitude, brimming with love and thankfulness, because no matter where you find yourself, no matter your present situation, no matter the trials before you… you’ve been through hell and survived. Somehow you’re still here, you’re together…and you know you can make it through anything.

5. Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.

We watched helplessly as dad moaned, groaned and writhed in excruciating pain from the cancer. He suffered unspeakable discomfort from all the treatments, surgeries, drugs, and injections, and it pained me more than words can explain. I wished I could take the chemo treatments for him, but I couldn’t.

The sight (weight loss, hair loss, and so on) and the thought of what a loved one is going through kills you inside, but you can’t do anything about it—the pain is inevitable. But when it is all finished, you alone get to decide how long you will continue to suffer and when you should accept it and move on.

6. Time heals all wounds.

When my dad died, I was a total wreck. I refused to go to school. I ran away from home. I had nothing to do with God, for he had “abandoned” us in our hour of need. I started drinking and smoking, but somehow, in the course of time, the pain and hurt subsided. Almost 12 years have passed since my dad died, and trust me when I say the wound is healed. The scars are still there—but the wound is healed.

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Time indeed does heal all wounds. Don’t despair. Give it time. Even though you are in such emotional pain that you can’t see how you can move on after the loss of a loved one, take heart, because time heals all wounds. The scars may remain (possibly forever), but your wound will heal in time.

7. Hard times reveal true friends.

It just so happens that the people who you expect will be there for you may not; and those people you never expected to be there will. I remember a close friend of my mother who was also her church-mate at the time speaking behind her back at church saying that the reason my dad had died was because my mother was not “Christian” enough. That really hurt my mother, because she trusted this woman and would not have expected such hurtful words to come from her.

Cancer has a way of bringing out who your true friends are—the ones who will be beside you through thick and thin, through ups and downs, through the beauty and the ugliness. Once you know who your true friends are, embrace and keep them close, along with your family. These are the people who truly matter. You will lean on them regularly and they will lean on you. Your friendship will nourish and carry you through many trials and tribulations that life throws.

8. Life is worth living.

It is ironic that seeing the face of death causes us to live life with even more passion. Once you’ve experience the death of a loved one to cancer, the way you live and view life after the storm has passed is never the same. I wake up every morning thankful. I appreciate all the loved ones left in my life with greater fervor, because it is crystal clear to me that life is not guaranteed. I recognize that soon it will all end.

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No one can predict the moment of death, and nothing ever prepares you for it, but with every sunrise and sunset, with every bird song and rainfall, with every blossoming flower in the spring and every fallen leaf in the autumn—rise up and celebrate life and all the little notes that compose life’s great symphony.

9. Miracles happen.

Life gives and takes away. Even newborn babies die. People eventually learn to accept the turn life has taken and work with it instead of struggling against it. It isn’t easy, but the more you surrender, the easier it is to maintain peace of mind and move on. Never underestimate the resilience of the human spirit.

It’s amazing how people who’ve lost loved ones to cancer pull themselves through and not only continue to live, but also to live better. It’s a miracle that many who actually endure the whole ordeal of chemo treatments come out of it alive and actually thrive.

10. Life will go on without you.

Mortality is something we all must face. Even though people don’t want to think about death, the fact remains that we will all die one day. And, sad as it may be, the world won’t stop because you are gone. It will keep spinning. The joys and struggles of surviving will continue with or without you. If that makes you sad, just remember this: the horror of life is that it changes; the beauty of life is that it changes.

That’s why we celebrate and give thanks for all cancer survivors. We celebrate all the valiant souls who have passed on, and all those who are left behind to tell the story. Love and peace to you all.

Featured photo credit: jimp200962 via pixabay.com

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David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2019

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

Many of us feel awkward talking to strangers. I’m a very outgoing person, even though I sometimes feel uncomfortable walking up to someone and asking a question or starting a conversation. I consider myself pretty high up on the extrovert meter. So what is it that makes us pause and become worried or anxious about talking to people we don’t know?

In this article, we will discuss why we feel this way as well as some tips on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Step right up, don’t be shy!

Why We Feel Awkward Talking to Strangers

The next time you feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger, tell yourself that’s completely normal. There are numerous reasons why it’s actually natural to feel awkward talking to strangers:

Our Stress Levels Rise Around Strangers

Numerous studies have show that our levels of cortisol go up when we are around strangers.[1] Cortisol is the hormone inside of us which produces stress responses.[2]
So there you go, right off the bat you can see part of your standard response to strangers is due to a chemical reaction!

A very interesting by product of increased cortisol is that it makes us less empathetic. More than likely this can be traced to our evolution. The increase in the cortisol and the corresponding decrease in empathy makes us want to stay away from strangers. We are biologically wired to feel concern around strangers.

Evolution Taught Us to Be Wary

Evolution has also taught us to be wary of strangers in general. Humans as a whole have spent a large chunk of their history banded together in small protective groups. We did this in order to help protect each other and maximize resources.

When you think about it in this context, outsiders to our small groups or strangers are considered potential threats. Fear of strangers is common across almost all human cultures.

Culturally Conditioned

We can also thank our society for helping us feel uncomfortable and sometimes afraid of strangers. The term “stranger danger” is something most of us can relate to either growing up or raising kids. Or both.

I remember hearing this from my parents, mostly about not getting in someone’s car I didn’t know. And as the father of 2 teenage girls, you can be sure I’ve talked to them about this very concept more times that they want to hear.

The thought that strangers can be dangerous is built into us as it is. Toss in the amplification of the media on strangers doing things such as kidnapping kids and it takes it to an even higher level.

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Now that we’ve reviewed some of the reasons why we are nervous, let’s look at why you should talk to strangers more.

Benefits of Getting over the Awkwardness

Let’s take a quick look at some of the advantages of how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward. These are some high level benefits of talking to strangers.

1. Broadens Your Network

After you talk to someone, you didn’t know previously they become someone you know at least a little bit. This alone helps broaden your network of people you know. This is helpful in many ways whether it is work related or socially related.

2. Improves Your Communication Skills

I am a huge proponent of the value of solid communication skills and have written about it often. The more you talk to people, especially people you don’t know, the better your communication skills become.

Interacting with a wider variety of people will bring the added benefit of improving your communication skills.

3. Continually Learning

So many of us don’t actively seek to learn new things. This is one of the primary keys to staying engaged in life and our own personal self fulfillment.

Almost every time I speak to someone I didn’t know previously, I’ve learned something new. When we speak to strangers, it pushes us out of our comfort zones and we tend to learn new things.

4. Increases Self Confidence

Every time we learn to do something we were previously anxious about, we feel better about ourselves.

Forcing ourselves to talk to strangers will lead to increased self confidence. As we get more and more comfortable doing something that previously made us feel awkward, our self confidence will go up and up.

So, how to talk to strangers to reap these benefits?

How to Talk to Strangers

Here are some tips to on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

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1. Say Hello

Putting “say hello” first may seem a bit obvious but let’s take a deeper look. Much of the social awkwardness when speaking to strangers is simply breaking the ice. The first words that will engage someone.

Most people will respond when someone says hello or hi to them. And those that don’t, you probably don’t want to talk to anyway.

Practice being the person that opens the door to a conversation. Say hello.

2. Ask About Them

Something that I have noticed over the years is that people love to talk about themselves. Even fairly private people tend to open up when asked about events in their lives.

You can ask leading questions that get people to talk about themselves and recent events. Things like recent movies watched or the summer vacation are great to get someone talking.

As a father, I also know that people love to talk about their kids. Asking about kids is a fairly easy topic to bring up and in general, most people will expound upon all the great things their kids do or are involved with.

3. Just Do It

One of the biggest reasons we don’t do things we want to or know we should is because we overthink it. Quit thinking about it so much and just do it.

When you give yourself the time to analyze every little angle about a situation, you also give plenty of time to talk yourself out of it. You’ll wind up thinking what if this happens or what if that happens.

Try to force yourself to jump right in without thinking about it too much. Whenever I have done this, I always feel great about it afterwards, no matter how it turned out.

4. Don’t Take It Personal

One of the greatest lessons in life I ever learned was don’t take anything personally. We all go through life with our own sets of experiences and see things through our own lens. The way people react to different situations has almost nothing to do with us. It has to do with previous experiences and the way people feel about things other than us.

When someone’s reaction isn’t what you’d hoped or expected, chances are it has nothing to do with you. Remember that and keep it in context.

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5. Get a Chuckle If Possible

I used the word chuckle purposely because it makes me laugh. In my opinion, it’s one of those funny words. We all like to laugh because it makes us feel good. And when someone makes us laugh, we typically remember those people in a positive light.

One of the best ways to make a conversation easy and free flowing is to get some laughter going. It doesn’t mean you have to be the master joke teller or anything. See if you can work in a way to make the person you are talking to get a smile or some laughter in. In fact, laughing at yourself maybe a nice try.

6. Detach

A great feeling is when you don’t mind which way something turns out, that you will be fine no matter what happens. Kind of like when I watch my two favorite football teams play against each other. I don’t really care who wins, I just want a fun game.

Treat talking to strangers the same way. You don’t really care how the conversation goes because you are detaching from the outcome. Make it a fun time with yourself and if the conversation goes well, awesome! If not then no big deal, move on.

7. Share Your Stories

Well, all like to feel connected to other people. And many times we wind up hanging out with people that we have things in common with. No surprise here.

To help with how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward, tell stories that have commonalities with the person you are talking to. Kids are an easy one. I have a daughter who was a competitive cheerleader and now plays club volleyball. I have instant connection and stories with strangers I speak with who have kids that play sports. It’s easy to relate to.

So when you are speaking to a stranger and you have a story or mutual connection point, bring it up.

8. Give a Compliment

Almost everyone likes hearing a compliment, whether they admit to it or not. As a general rule, we don’t give out enough compliments. It’s amazing how one small remark someone tosses your way about how good you look can literally make your entire day.

When you are speaking with someone you don’t know, see if you can work a compliment in. Nothing creepy here. Not a good idea to tell someone you just met that they are the prettiest or handsomest person you ever met. However, if you can share how you like their tattoo or shoes or something like that, it will help put the conversation into an easy going, smiling place.

9. Relax Your Body Language

If you go into a situation all worried and nervous, it shows on your body. Your shoulders are tensed up, there’s a look of consternation on your face, things like that.

When you engage a stranger in conversation, make it a point to relax your body language. Take a deep breath before you engage the person, let your body relax, and put a smile on your face. This will help relax you and it has the added benefit of putting the other person more at ease.

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If they see that you are relaxed, it helps them relax. Plus having open, engaging body language is very conducive to inviting someone to open up into a conversation with you.

10. Practice, Practice, Practice

Like everything else in life, talking to strangers gets easier with practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Make it a point to talk to several strangers each week and it will definitely help you relax as you do it more and more.

After a while, it will become something you don’t even think about, you just do it. And that takes all of the awkwardness out of being in these type situations.

The Bottom Line

As we have seen, it is perfectly natural to feel awkward talking to strangers. We are biologically built that way and we have our own society constantly warning us how dangerous it is. It’s no wonder we feel awkward talking to strangers!

There are numerous benefits to learning to be more comfortable talking to strangers. See if you can employ some of the techniques mentioned to learn how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Once you start practicing speaking with strangers more often and utilizing some of the tips, you will become more comfortable doing so. This in turn will lead to a learned new skill and increased self confidence.

Remember, everyone you know was a stranger at one time. Now get out there and make some new friends.

More Resources About Strengthening Communication Skills

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

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