Attending a Fellow IPF Patient’s Funeral Brings Up Many Emotions

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by Charlene Marshall |

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I would not consider myself an anxious person. However, as I straightened my hair and did my makeup last Saturday morning, I realized the person reflected in the mirror was riddled with anxiety. I was attending a funeral for my friend’s mom, Anne, who had idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), the same life-threatening and debilitating lung disease that I have.

Even though many of my friends have lost their battle with IPF, it is rare for me to attend a funeral in person, especially since the pandemic. Losing friends in the rare disease world never gets easier, but this funeral was particularly difficult for me.

For one, Anne and I bonded over IPF and found comfort in each other. It’s hard being from a small town where no one can relate to symptoms like breathlessness, fatigue, and a chronic dry cough.

A second painful realization was that Anne was diagnosed after I was. She worked incredibly hard to lose weight, reduce her oxygen dependency, and spend more time with her family while facing a grim prognosis. I can confidently say that she tried harder than me to survive this lung disease, and yet, she died first. There’s no such thing as fairness in the rare disease world.

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These painful thoughts weren’t the only thing causing me anxiety that day. Anne was relatively stable prior to catching COVID-19 a few months ago, which exacerbated her IPF and ultimately caused respiratory failure. While I survived COVID-19 earlier this year, it damaged my lungs, and I still don’t feel comfortable in large crowds or public environments, despite restrictions easing. I knew this funeral would be well-attended, and I feared I’d be one of the only people wearing a mask.

The funeral was beautiful — filled with spring-colored flowers and a traditional Mass in Anne’s favorite church, just as she would have wanted. However, a traditional Catholic Mass includes two segments that require interaction: Communion and the extension of a peace offering, via a handshake, to those around you.

As these parts of the service neared, my anxiety grew, and I wondered how I could avoid these close interactions. I didn’t want to be focused on these worries, but I feared catching the COVID-19 virus again.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, and I felt grateful to be able to hide my oxygen cannula and tears under my mask and sunglasses, respectively. After the burial, a luncheon was held at a local community center. Although I hadn’t lived in that small town for over a decade, everyone seemed to know that I have the same disease that Anne had.

During conversations about my IPF, I was reluctant to share that, for now, my disease is stable. It didn’t feel appropriate to share that with Anne’s loved ones who were grieving her loss. It must have been especially difficult for my friend, who had to say goodbye to her mom just before Mother’s Day. Navigating these conversations was challenging and exhausting.

My advice to other patients attending an IPF friend’s funeral is to be patient with yourself, as you’ll likely experience myriad emotions. Processing the loss of Anne, someone I confided in throughout our IPF journeys, will simply take time.

Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.


Steve Dragoo avatar

Steve Dragoo

Bless your heart...


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