Winning From the Loss

Winning from the loss. I know this sounds like the ultimate oxymoron, but I have learned that oftentimes when you learn from the loss, you win something. Not a trophy, but a sense of release and an awareness of self. The winning comes from the lesson of the loss.

I am a cancer survivor. I write about it. I talk about it. I give talks about it. I’m not ashamed of it. But from my cancer and everything that came before it and that which has followed, there has been loss and in turn, many triumphs.

I never really paid attention to the word grief until I was in college as a psychology student. My degree did me well in knowing the stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – but learning about it and actually going through it are two entirely different experiences.

Grief is hard to quantify. I mean, how do you put the loss of someone and the grief that most certainly follows, into a quantifiable equation?

It’s pretty simple. You don’t.

I often write about things I find to be funny. Grief isn’t one of them. It’s a feeling that hides behind a thick and heavy black curtain. Instead of the Wizard of Oz sitting behind the drapery, it’s where your broken heart and tears are for a period of time. And the crazy thing is that the curtain moves farther away from us as time ticks on, but the feelings we had behind it never really go away.

I lost my mom to breast cancer when I was 26 years old. She missed out on all of the amazing milestones of adulthood for me and my brother. And we missed out on her. Life is unfair and sometimes, grief never goes away. It never really becomes that dot far off into the distance that you can barely see. It is always there.

In the past few months, three incredible women I got to know passed away from breast cancer. They were 26, 40 and 54. They were beautiful people, wives, sisters, daughters, mothers, and friends. They won their battles with cancer by the way in which they lived their lives. They were each extraordinary women in their own right and were loved by so many. My heart literally broke in half for their families and for the friendships I grew to cherish. As sad as I am for their loss, I won because I had them in my life and I am better for it.

To me, that is the lesson. What is the take-away from the love and friendships we have in our lives when we are faced with the loss of someone we care about? Are they better for having known us and vice versa? I certainly hope so. I want to say that I know so.

Everyone goes through loss, sadness, and grief. And those stages of grief? Well, everyone gets through them at their own pace. I have learned to thoughtfully reflect on the lives of the people I have lost. Sometimes I cry. But most of the time I smile because I know that knowing them for the time I did were winning moments in my life.

You see, life is fragile. We don’t know what tomorrow brings. I think of grief like a crack I see in a glass. One false move and the crack leads to more cracks until it shatters. People pass in and out of our lives like pieces of glass.

It is not until we put all of those pieces together do we realize how full our lives are and how our glass is always full.


Connie Bramer
Connie Bramer
Connie Bramer is an entrepreneur, mom, breast cancer survivor, and author of “How Connie Got Her Rack Back,” her comical spin on the journey of cancer. Connie’s mission to help others through her own experiences drove her to found Get Your Rack Back Inc., a not for profit organization that provides financial assistance to cancer patients in Upstate NY. GYRB assists patients – men, women, and children with varying types of cancers – with gas and grocery gift cards as well as medical copay assistance. Connie has been featured in several magazines including Her Life New York and Womenz Straight Talk. As a cancer survivor, Connie was awarded the Hyatt’s prestigious Portrait of Understanding Award. In addition to her inspirational blog, gyrb. She also shares her everyday antics with a snarky sense of humor on her blog, The Humor Of It All. Connie is a contributing author to the inspiring books; Chaos to Clarity: Sacred Stories of Transformational Change and Crappy to Happy: Sacred Stories of Transformational Joy

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  1. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience Connie, I am sorry for your loss and can relate.
    Having lost my mother to cancer 10 years ago here are my 3 refelections:
    In terms of the loss; “It doesnt get any better you get better at it” ( quote: Queen Mother)
    Your born twice, once at your birth and again when your mother dies” ( quote: Rufus Wainright )

    And then a realisation that hit me like an express train. My whole life people said to me and I believed it; you’re like your dad. And I was, with many of his traits and charachteristics, all of which of i’m proud to posess but it wasnt until after her death that I realised the woman I’d become, my abiltiy to love wholeheartedly, my strength and resilience, my dignity, style and grace were all gifts that my mother had quietly and without fanfare sewn into the fabric of my life across the years and all of which all of which I now know were extraordinary however, I couldn’t have they known they were extraordinary back then becuase they were all I’d ever known, they were my norm and my every day, becuase they were her norm and her everyday. She was I love and I was loved beyond words…….

    Dee X

    • Wow, Dee, thank you for sharing your reflections! Very powerful. I was, and still am, told that I am just like my mother. She had an incredibly giving soul and for that, I am honored to be deemed her likeness. Sounds like you and I both have been blessed with wonderful mothers. Thank you for sharing your story. 💖

  2. Connie,
    This is such a beautiful, personal and sacred share… Thank you!
    Thank you for bringing every real and raw emotion up for me this morning. I lost my Mother when I was 26 and many friends along the way… I hear your heart and I feel the cracks.
    And…. you found it right here:
    “It is not until we put all of those pieces together do we realize how full our lives are and how our glass is always full.” #Stillhere

  3. Blessings Connie. My comment on your great article is this: Based on my faith we are assured of the eternal soul joyfully entering into Heaven because of the God who created all of us, loves us so much. That comforted me when my mother passed away when I was just 13, she was only 42. The loss of my sister and two brothers caused a sense of loneliness and grief that became a joy because I know that they are in the arms and presence of Our Lord and His Holy Mother, a place where I will hope to be too someday.

    • Thank you so much for sharing this Lynn. I’m so very sorry for your losses. The death of my mother was devastating from every possible angle. It took me a long time to make sense of it and realize her work here on earth done. She did what she came to do and she made everyone around her better for knowing her. And we are all better for having known her. That was the lesson for me.

  4. What a powerful reminder, Connie! None of us are guaranteed tomorrow. But we all have the choice as to how and with whom we spend today. It’s so easy to get bogged down in the little irritants. Life isn’t fair, and sometimes it just plain sucks. Often it takes another perspective – like yours – to be able to see the glass half full. Thank you for sharing your story!

  5. Connie, where do I begin? This piece is lovely and touching. It speaks to something that we all experience at different points during our life: grief, pain, and loss. But, moreover, in between the lines you so eloquently write, it radiates hope and gives us the nudge to live life and enjoy the people who are part of it. It is about being present.

    So much of what you say about grief resonates with me. My mom passed away almost six years ago, and although I’ve moved forward and learned a new normal, those feelings of loss still reside within me. But she lived a good, happy life, and I am thankful for all the years we had together.

    We get dealt cards in life that we don’t expect and that we can’t always control, and sometimes that Joker wallops us. But, as you’ve talked about here, it is how we choose to deal with the deck that matters. I’ve never felt such loss or pain as when my mom passed. But, she left me with strong roots and enduring love. From there, I found my way to writing – and it continues to be my catharsis.

    Thank you for sharing this work with us. I’m so happy I got a chance to read it.

    • Laura, thank you for your extremely kind words and for your insight on the “new normal.” I know every bit of the pain you feel with the loss of your mom. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    • Laura, thank you for your extremely kind words and for your insight on the “new normal.” I know every bit of the pain you feel with the loss of your mom. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  6. Connie Thank you for sharing your powerful stories. I once worked with a colleague whom it was said of “For (name), it’s not a question of the glass being half full or half empty; there’s simply no glass.” How sad. Your story also jogged a memory of a meme that goes something like this: “Got a half empty glass? You control the bottle. The glass is yours to fill.” That’s a tough message at times, but Susan said it so well before, we can only control how we react to things.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts Jeff. I am a glass half full person always. I love the saying about the glass being ours to fill. Thank you.

  7. Connie, thank you for writing and sharing your article. I have sustained the loss of my mother (of blessed memory) my father (of blessed memory and my older sister (of blessed memory). None of these losses have lessened in terms of my grief nor do I want to. In my religion, we never forget those who have passed and we continue to mourn for them. On the anniversary of their death, we light a memorial candle in their memory. On certain holidays we say a special prayer for those who have passed. My life is not full and may not ever be.

  8. Very powerful and moving essay, Connie! I appreciate the reminder to celebrate people in our lives while they are with us because we really don’t know when they are going to exit-usually in the middle of the movie before you get to the part where people run to find that beautiful one they realize they Love! I have had a practice for a long time now to say “I love you.” every single time I speak with a beloved one on the phone or let people I may not know really well -the ways I appreciate them-I notice things to appreciate. I, too, have lost people to death or other circumstances. Living with few regrets means being aware of the person with you right now. Take no one for granted. Take no breath for granted. Live like it matters!

    Recently I realized that grief for me is actually grieflove-one word-how much I grieve is how deep I love. These emotions/commitments dance together like DNA strands with the third strand being compassion. I welcome my tears for I openly cry and have since I was a little girl-seems that this is my body’s way. I embrace this knowing/honoring other people grieve in different ways-and probably for a lifetime because that’s what it means to love.

    Thank you for this article, Connie! I’m grateful you thrive beyond cancer, that you choose to share the gift of the life you’ve been given! Yes! Beautiful….from cancer to contribution.

    • Laura, thank you for sharing your wisdom. I, too, make it a point to say “I love you” to friends and family on just about every occasion. You never know when it will be the last time. Living in the moment was something I learned to embrace during my cancer journey. And since founding my charity and being involved with cancer patients on a frequent basis, I have struggled with the loss of them as they occur. I have been taking time recently to truly reflect on those relationships and have realized what an amazing gift it has been to be part of their journey and them to be part of mine. Thank you so much for your comments. I really appreciate your perspective on grief. You conveyed it so beautifully.

    • Connie, I honor your courage, commitment to be with cancer patients knowing that some have and others will die-a constant reminder that we are all going to leave in the middle of the movie. All those patients are so blessed to have you in their corner loving them, holding space for them, maybe even holding them no matter what. That’s a walk of courage and commitment…one that I personally am in awe of. Bless you in your labor of love.

  9. Connie, I think you’ve hit on something we in the West are not particularly adept at accepting: Life is death. Light is dark. Joy is sadness. Gain is loss. Nature is balance. Yin and yang. This is from Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces:

    “We remain fixated to the unexorcised images of our infancy, and hence disinclined to the necessary passages of our adulthood. In the United States there is even a pathos of inverted emphasis: the goal is not to grow old, but to remain young; not to mature away from Mother, but to cleave to her.”

    Your brush with cancer gave you a keen insight and a rare wisdom. Thank you for sharing both with us.

    • Thank you so much for your comments Mark and the beautiful passage from Joseph Campbell’s book. The most important thing I have learned from loss is that there is a lesson in embracing it and cherishing the memories we have from knowing one another.

  10. Connie, this is lovely. I know all too well what you’re talking about. I’ve written about it here, in fact. Somehow, you’ve managed to articulate that even grief can, in a sense, be “uplifting.” That really is the glass “half-full.” Thank you for writing.

  11. Part of the healing of losing someone is when we discover what you so succinctly said near the end of your beautiful piece: “But most of the time I smile because I know that knowing them for the time I did were winning moments in my life.” When someone is gone, all the people who never had the blessing of knowing them, will never know them. And never is a pretty painful concept. I always want more time with people, but one of the great blessings that we are given in this life is the people whose lives intersect with our own. I love your perspective and how you have chosen to embrace the best aspects of the difficulties that can come our way. Thank you for sharing it! Snarky is something I have been known to traffic in, and I suspect we could have some interesting conversations…

    Not to use your platform to promote my writing, but I recently wrote of the loss of a dear friend; you may find it of interest.

    • Thank you Tom. You are right. It Is a blessing to have others intersect our lives and for those who don’t have the privilege of the intersection, it is a tragedy. Thank you so much for sharing and adding the link to your article. I will be sure to read it.

  12. Lovely article Connie, and sorry to hear of your mom and close friends you have lost to cancer. As well, many prayers that you remain on the clear path in your own journey free of cancer. As for grief, it is a monster and comes in many forms. When I was younger, my first wife and I divorced after two years. Many details aside, I had a period of grief and depression that followed. I filled my time with all the wrong vices, and eventually came to the conclusion I was destroying myself. I came out of this ugly period in my life a better person, and my sense of self-awareness went on during this time. I have since grown to be very introspective and pay close attention to the world around me, how my personality may be affecting others. Grief can teach us many things, ugly things, but it can also help us to hit the RESET button when we need it most…

  13. Wow, Connie! Powerful. What comes to mind for me is that we make choices about how we’ll live. We cannot control getting a disease, but we can choose how to deal with it. We cannot control much — if anything — external to our life, but we can make decisions internally as to how we see those events, how we feel about them, and how we deal with them.

    Easy? Hell, no. Toughest battles we’ll ever fight, but it’s our life. And we need those successes you mention as proof that our life is worth living, that we are surrounded by wonders that can help us lighten what is often a terrible burden.

    The old saying of you’ll what you focus on rings true for me, and thank you for continuing to remind us, Connie!