No Dancing

Jessie Wilcox smith - At the Back of the North Wind


When I saw a few moments of the Cancer Dance video on the evening news, I was dismayed. The news people smiled and exchanged platitudes about courage and healing. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, they mused, if people everywhere were inspired by the dancing mastectomy patient to face cancer with such joy?

If you’re reading this and you have cancer, and you like the dancing, please forgive me for my bad attitude.

I just feel that it’s one more way to pressure people into masking their trauma and fear and grief. BE HAPPY! Find a silver lining! Things could be worse! Be thankful for the ‘lesson’ of cancer or death!

Our culture offers nothing for the grief-stricken. We just want them to keep quiet or go away. What if some women insisted on wearing black mourning clothes to her mastectomy, to say goodbye to her breasts? That video would not go viral.

I will never be “over” my loss and I will always grieve. I accept that but no one else does, except for the parents I see on online forums, who express their anguish and desperation to strangers who have Been There. Online People can be remarkably patient and compassionate. Real Life people get sick of your morose demeanor. They get sick of hearing you ask with complete sincerity, “Why doesn’t so-and-so just kill themself?” They are upset by your negativity. And they feel helpless in the face of such intractable sadness.

A couple of nights ago, I chatted online with a total stranger who seemed really smart and really nice. I told her my story and asked what to do about facing or avoiding my dark constant companion, as I think of it.

She asked a few questions and then told me that grief was noble. She advised me to look for people I could help, and to honor my son however I could.  Her words were a huge comfort.

I’m going to just feel noble instead of hating myself for being sad. I’m not going to dance and act happy, because I’m not a model of courage and positivism. And If I find out I have cancer, I’m going to make a big fuss and take to my bed.  I wish America were like Africa, with shaman elders to dance around and perform some rituals for us who have lost our children or breasts or limbs or sanity.

At least there are wise strangers out there in cyberspace.

This entry was posted in Disorders, grief, Horrible Stuff, Rants and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to No Dancing

  1. Sam says:

    Thanks, always, for your honesty about your grief (and about your ‘bad’ attitude!) and for refusing to mask your feelings. It’s a relief. It’s helpful. The solace of strangers in cyberspace indeed.

  2. Dj says:

    Dear sister,, I totally agree. I saw the video, and I am glad the woman had the positive feeling she wanted. However, including the entire or, the public. No. I also hate all the bs about theres a reason” someone died, was in an accident etc. “celebrate” their lives, have a party! The other new-ish thing is placing all that crap all over the accident site. Teddy bears, candles, balloons pooh bears. Wretched! Americans are hysterical, and to hide the hysteria they become infantile. When my time comes I want mourning not yuk king it up. I want solemnity. Later, a lovely reception. Cry goddamnit. I was at a very dark place in my life years ago, I went to a priest and told him I was miserable with life, how I prayed etc. and got no feeling of relief. He simply said “stop praying, it’s just pissing you off. God already knows what’s going on, just stop for awhile.” Those words were comforting and lifted a burden off my may grieve, but stay in the game when you can.

  3. Mo in KCMO says:

    Sis, I always come here for information, inspiriation, and Real Deal emoting. Today you, Sam, and Dj all validate raw sadness. But I never leave here sad. Go figure.

  4. Bessie the Cow says:

    When my brother died, my father never stopped crying. He would wake up in the middle of the night and wail. He lamented his son’s death every minute until he died, which was only a few short months after my brother died. Between my brother’s and father’s death I had a miscarriage one day past the first trimester, just when I though I was safe. All grief ever did for me was give me anxiety, panic attacks, lower my immunity, give me insomnia, take my father away, etc. We all grief differently. Some of us cry, some dance, some search for meaning, some drink, do drugs, some volunteer, some break down.
    You are noble, and I think you have always been noble. You are true to yourself.

  5. Suspended says:

    Beautiful artwork, beautiful words.

    I have no real experience of grieving for the dead, only the living. That’s a different thing entirely. Your experiences give me insight and I appreciate that but I also realise how limited that insight is.

    All emotion is valid. Feel what you want to. When in grief, positivity is only a flickering bulb in the darkness, a moment of forgotten reality. There is nothing sadder than smiling through pain. It’s maddening to have such a massive burden on your heart, such a pervasive numbness in being, and also have to think of other’s feelings. How can it even be done?

    You are a strength to so many, it pleases me that others are of strength to you also. There are still blessing to be counted. Cyberspace allows us all to laugh together, cry together and carry a little of each others burdens xoxoxo

  6. Debbie says:

    There seems to be this creepy approval for those who are “joyful” and “positive” in the midst of horrible circumstances. I don’t get it. Being positive and joyful is not going to change anything. That poor lady was still getting a mastectomy. I don’t get dancing in the operating theater … I really don’t. How was that going to make having the surgery easier? And truthfully, to me, it seemed like all the nurses in the operating room felt awkward and weird dancing. It’s like saying you’re a survivor? What the hell does that mean? WE’RE ALL SURVIVING SOMETHING. ALL OF US. Is that to say that if you don’t survive then that makes you a loser? Or God Forbid, negative? You are absolutely correct Sister. People do not know how, and are afraid of grieving. Feeling sad or depressed is a dirty word. If I knew I had breast cancer I would fucken be sad and scared shitless. And that would not make me a coward or a negative person. It would make me HUMAN.

    OK. My two cents.


  7. Cricket9 says:

    Dear Sister, and Everyone who posted here – thank you for being true to your feelings. I just had such an overload of fake cheerfulness and forced saccharine positivity lately…

  8. Nikki says:

    Everyone deals with pain in a different way. Some inwardly, some outwardly, some are too stunned to know how to express it, some never do.

    When I had cancer… in my 20’s, then 30’s, then twice in my 40’s, I felt no amazing revelation that I’d been cured, or had a 2nd/3rd/4th/5th chance at life. In fact, I felt the opposite. It bothered me greatly that I had no support & drove myself home from most surgeries, in tears, by sneaking out of the waiting room with the ‘I need to use the restroom’ excuse, after lying that someone would be along shortly to collect me… they wouldn’t let me go ’til someone arrived… there was ‘no someone’.

    I don’t feel wiser for the experience or as if ‘it got me to where I am today’. BS! I didn’t deserve it! And, I’m here in spite of it, not because of it. It hasn’t enhanced my life, given me humility I didn’t possess before or teach me any lesson. I did nothing to bring it on, including that sentiment often espoused in metaphysical circles about it being a life’s lesson one chose. Nonsense. If anything, I prosper & am positive despite my many personal experiences. Some would call that unrealistic, ducking from reality or insane.

    I cannot listen to others tell their tales of woe, beat by beat, of their cancer journeys, holding onto every detail as if recounting the stepping stones of their children. We’re not all the same, on the same path, with the same lives. Some cancers destroy lives, others enhance it afterwards, in some weird way.

    I have a dark companion, too. Several. I can’t express mine sans anonymity. But, many are more like you than I, I imagine. We must do what enhances our lives. For some, it’s more public. For me, it’s a hidden blog no one can read but me. Well, maybe the NSA, if recent headlines are true. But, why would they care about my story. It’s just one of millions.

    Having cancer is horrible. Having it multiple times is an unspeakable pain. Losing a child is another life changing kick in the crotch only those who’ve gone through it can express… & all differently. If you need to speak, do so. I wish you a lifetime of healing.

  9. Sister Wolf says:

    Nikki – I care about your story. Thank you for sharing it with me. xoxo

  10. Dj says:

    Nikki and sister, dark companions can shed a great deal of light…xx

  11. Nikki says:


    I don’t understand your comment. Is your point that there’s always a silver lining no matter how grim one’s circumstances? One can’t see light if not for the contrast of pain & darkness? The bad brings one to the good & if it did, then the bad was well bloody worth it? If so, that sentiment to me is utter nonsense.

    If someone needs to experience unpleasantness in order to do something better with his/her life, that is my definition of pathetic. My experience is that in most of those cases, they were selfish people who got a good dose of a steel toed Doc Marten to the ego. How does that correlate to what I’ve said? You cannot judge. I’ve been no such person. Quite the opposite, in fact, but I won’t brag, complain or justify. We can’t speak for another. If you didn’t imply those sentiments, then accept my apology.

    I believe we’re not all the same. Expressing pain or deciding not to doesn’t mean one lives in a shell, in the dark & closeted or vice versa. Some have lives that would make anyone luckier feel the need to duck & run, but those people may not define their lives as unlucky. And, there’s the flip side of those, who appear to have it all, yet seem bloody miserable. Would you trade places with them because they have money or other gifts/freedoms you or I may not? I wouldn’t.

    I am what & where I am despite what I’ve gone though not because of it. However, I don’t marinate in thinking how much better or further I could have gone had I had support, more money, friends in high places, nice family, good luck, etc. That’s poison & rumination. I dislike the word victim but more so the label survivor. I’m just human & take on no one’s definitions they feel the right to assign others. That, in particular, is why I remain anonymous with any pain I’ve had, on a message board, here or in real life. If you’d met me, you’d have no idea of the demons I had to face in my life. I choose not to wear pain on my sleeve. For those who do, I can have empathy or sympathy for some who define it as a part of their lives. For those who pain is the forefront, I find it hard to be around them.

    I strive daily to overcome. I refuse to allow others to drag me into an abyss & shun those who feel I need to be there or should talk about being there in order to heal or that I should rip out my heart to reveal pain to satisfy their morbid curiosities. I’ll do what is best for me to survive & don’t need permission otherwise. Nor do you.

    I have no idea what you tried to express. Judgment that we should feel grateful just for taking a breath & being able to walk? If yes to any of the above, stop… you don’t know anything about me. If not, please elaborate because I obviously missed your point.

  12. Sister Wolf says:

    Nikki – I think Dj was just being poetic. And I hate the word ‘survivor’ too, unless in conjunction with Auschwitz.

  13. Dj says:

    Thank you sister, I didn’t deserve all that

  14. Janet says:

    XOXO Sister. I think about you often.

  15. Kristin says:

    I too am frightened actually by all this dancing in the face of getting breasts cut off, positivity in the face of disaster. But I only have one story in my life that brings me down, the death of my youngest brother by suicide by a particularly horrific way many years ago. Up until a few weeks ago I attempted to “process” this loss, but then, on November 2, the Day of Remembrance of the Dead in the Episcopal Church, as I sat in Church and prayed for him to awaken to eternal life and flashed on him jumping from the shotgun to God’s arms — how was that possible — I had the hardest time. The next day I fell into a deep depression and realized that my quest of “processing” his death was impossible. No one can process such a death. I now try to trust more in God and focus on God caring for him. If I trust in God for myself why can’t I trust in God for Stuart, I ask? It is still a confusing new thought, but I think the thought that I must give up trying to process such a death is progress.

  16. Dj says:

    Kristen, you don’t need to know how or why…Stuart is safe. It must seem like I hang out with a bunch of priests ( see my other comment) but actually the ones I know are the best real men I know. Once suicidal, I asked one if suicide was indeed a mortal sin and would I go to hell. He said no. He said God knows what goes on, he is not going to condemn a soul that is in dreadful pain…I don’t know if this has much to do with your comment, but, I guess I want to tell you to feel peace and not continue the frustration of processing. Stuart and God have already figured it out.

  17. Walter says:


    Your blog is poignant and funny (Also addictive). I am touched by your story.

    As someone who lives with pain but tries desperately to push it away with every worldly pleasure conceived in a desperate bid to not face my own darkness, I understand your plight (I think).

    In my own journey I am praying to saints for help. Mary, the Mother of God, suffered while watching her son die on the cross.

    I recently meditated on her pain and found it consoling. Imagine having to kneel in front of your son, helpless as he suffers. Her pride and Joy, the only son of God, was her world. He was beaten ruthlessly and tortured, by the very people he loved and offered salvation to.

    For myself, I’ve come to the realization that no one can know another’s pain. But I believe that Mary, who suffered helplessly for the sake of others and watched her son die, probably knows about pain much much more than I do.

    I am sorry for your loss and please, forgive my unbidden comment. I know it is probably not needed or wanted. However I felt a surge of compassion for you and wanted to honor my Mother. Jesus said “Woman behold your son, Son behold your Mother” to the Apostle John and Mary on the cross. He knew the pain that She felt. I have faith and hope in God, that His perfect knowledge of our pain is kept in His heart as well.

    Please forgive my horrible grammar. God bless you.

  18. Odile Lee says:

    Darling, Barbara Erlich( something like that) wrote a book on the bullying of the cancer shame culture that tells people they have to be happy about it, and other similar things called ” Be happy or die,”
    Its about how this sort of pop psych has ruined culture, and thinking by its perfidious lies.
    Be angry, be you. No matter how long. Just don’t let it eat you up inside.
    Anger, as John Lydon said, is a energy. Emotion, as I learnt from learning to understand my bipolar friend- is like water. Like waves. They are neither good nor bad in the moral world. Just something to be surfed or turfed by.
    The whole thing about always being positive is wrong. According to Jung, repressing our shadow self without some sort of ritual- pushes it down deep Where it builds up, to see saw back up like a arrow or a catapult.
    He had a lot of interesting things to say on what it means to understand your shadow.
    Odile x

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *