During my radiation, I got to know a few of the women who had appointments around the same time. We sat in a comfortable waiting area after changing into our gowns and waited for our turn with the massive machines. On the last day of our treatment, I chatted briefly with one of the women as she was changing back into her street clothes. Unlike me, her radiation occurred as the final phase of her treatment. This session was it, the end of her treatment journey.
She was bewildered. She asked me, “Is this it, is this all? Shouldn't there be some kind of drum roll? Some kind of final "ta da!" Instead, she quietly put on her hat and left.
We all need closure and celebration to mark important moments in our lives. Breast cancer had defined this woman's life for the past six months. The illness cost this woman her job. Her retirement plans were in chaos because of the economic impact of the treatment. She faced mortality in an intimate way. It was a big deal for her to finish treatment and move forward. She needed a ceremony.
My dad had heart surgery and a long recovery last year. He was just about back to normal when I received my cancer diagnosis. (After years of robust health, 2013 was not the best year for our family, culminating with my mother’s stroke at Christmas. I stayed up on New Year’s just to make sure 2013 really was gone!). One of the very best things about his recovery was the daily rehab he did with others at our local hospital. A little community of support and encouragement formed in those sessions. One of the things he really liked was on Friday when everyone paused and the PA system announced the name or names of those who were graduating from the program that day. Everyone gave a heartfelt cheer and "Pomp and Circumstance” was played over the PA. My dad talked about it several times and I think it was meaningful to him for a couple of reasons:
- It gave him hope. Others were moving on with their lives; there was an end in sight that he could strive for because others he knew had achieved it.
- Others were recognizing the accomplishment; there was a feeling of community support. People cared.
- He cared about these other individuals who he had encouraged and been encouraged by.
- There was a sense of closure. People did not just fade away, but rather, they were celebrated and moved on to the next piece of their journey in life.
This hospital program did closure and celebration really well.
I think often we are too busy to stop, pause and celebrate the success of the work being done in healthcare. This is true for both behavioral health and physical health. And it's a need that I think we all have – both consumers and clinicians alike. Lori Ashcroft has written about the work they do at Recovery Innovations to build in this celebration, to pay attention to this normal human need to close one door while we open up the rest of our life. The addiction community may do this better than anyone else. They have paid attention to this human need to celebrate our accomplishments.