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How I Used My Grief for Good After Losing My Friend to Cancer

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When it comes to experiencing grief, I find this quote by Terri Irwin to be incredibly accurate:

“Grief is never something you get over. You don’t wake up one morning and say, ‘I’ve conquered that; now I’m moving on.’ It’s something that walks beside you every day. And if you can learn how to manage it and honor the person that you miss, you can take something that is incredibly sad and have some form of positivity.”

A string of thoughts swirl around my head when I think about my friend Daniel’s battle with brain cancer, on top of having cerebral palsy as a 15-year-old boy with so much ahead of him.

I think things like: another year has gone by without you, but it feels like yesterday you said goodbye to this world and the chapters of your book came to an end. But there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about you or the battle you faced. You were incredibly brave and courageous, and for that, I’m proud of you.

It’s been nine years since he’s been gone, but in all seriousness, it still feels yesterday.

Within the first year of Daniel passing, I struggled to come to terms with my grief and the fact that cancer had taken my best friend who was like a brother to me. He was my biggest supporter next to my mom. I became extremely angry at the world, to the point where I started to become more rebellious. As a result, my grades started to slip.

I was finding my freshman year of high school so difficult that I started to skip classes. I didn’t care about my future. I would often ask myself if there was anything I could have done to save Daniel’s life. I would even wish it were me who got cancer instead of him.

The guilt was isolating. I couldn’t go out and do the things I enjoyed, like going to the bookstore or attending football games without feeling guilty about it. I would often say things like, “Too bad Daniel can’t be here right now.” To avoid feeling like this, I would stay home as much as possible.

As you can imagine, this was not good for me. At all. I would post about him every day on social media, writing about how much I wanted my “brother” back. A part of me hoped God would read my post and say, “Here’s Daniel back.” It was like I had separated myself from reality as a way to cope, away from the reality that Daniel was gone and that I had to move on.

However, moving on wasn’t easy by any means. A year after Daniel’s passing, I decided I wanted to support children fighting cancer, so I sent toys to kids in the hospital. It was a good way to help me cope with my grief, as well as help me set aside the anger I felt. I donated soft toys to child cancer patients to honor my best friend. Moving on from such grief requires a lot of bravery.

“There is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”– Winnie the Pooh

A year later I went on to write “James Ticking Time Bomb” in honor of Daniel and his battle with cancer. I’ve been writing with the aim of bringing awareness to childhood cancer ever since.

It’s nine years later and I am now 24 years old and in college. I’m doing what I love most, which is spreading awareness for causes that matter to me through writing — the one thing that helped me cope the most with the grief of Daniel’s death. I still rely on writing as a coping mechanism to help me get through my grief as an adult. So now, every time I open up my laptop and begin writing, it serves as a reminder than Daniel’s spirit is always with me, and that I’ll see him again someday.

Originally published: August 19, 2019
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