Computers Crash and So Do We

by Ruth KavanaghPatient, Brain CancerOctober 29, 2021View more posts from Ruth Kavanagh

Computers Crash and So Do We: A Piece on Cancer and Grief

“Did You Back-Up Your Computer?”

For those of us who were of age to watch “Sex In the City” when it originally aired, I hope you can appreciate this reference.

For the younger generations watching the reruns, you may or may not appreciate it quite as much.

Synopsis of the episode: “My Motherboard, My Self” (season four, episode eight; originally aired 7/15/2001 – Wow, I feel old!) 

I’ll explain why this episode of “Sex In the City” is so meaningful at this moment in my life, and how it relates in any way to grief. First I’ll give a brief synopsis.

In this episode, Carrie’s laptop crashes. If you are in any way familiar with the show, you know that Carrie’s “whole life is on that laptop!”

Although her amazing boyfriend – in my personal opinion – Aidan, attempts to help. He JUST doesn’t quite “GET IT/understand how valuable that laptop is to Carrie. Though I adored him, he doesn’t understand how Carrie feels, or what she’s going through. I think ALMOST EVERY cancer patient can relate. She’s grieving the precious work she’s lost that was contained on that laptop.

 

“THE LAPTOP AS A METAPHOR”

The laptop is a metaphor for me now, in viewing the episode as a potentially terminal (I say that as there are differing opinions) cancer patient. As a writer, Carrie’s laptop was basically “her life.”

As cancer patients, we grieve so many, many things.

We grieve, our loss of hair, or the mobility we previously had.

In the episode, everyone keeps asking Carrie, “Did you back up your computer, data, etc?” Newsflash: She hasn’t. At the computer repair shop, the tech guy asks when she last backed up her system. She looks at him like a deer in headlights and says: “I don’t do that”!  

Me: “I feel you, girl! I feel you!”

I compare that question to the, “Are you in remission because you look great?”

Using a pay phone, (Yes, a pay phone. The horror!) Carrie finally reaches Miranda, the big-time attorney and the one who usually seems to have her “s—t together”. 

However, Miranda is actually in a Philadelphia hospital, after her mother has suffered a heart attack.

For a show that didn’t initially touch on very deep issues, this one definitely gets DEEP. 

As the episode continues, Miranda is shown breaking down once it’s revealed her mother has died.

I must say, the actress, Cynthia Nixon, who plays Miranda is fantastic in this episode. The range of emotions she exhibits is so raw. 

It’s so real.

You truly feel her grief.

Thus, she retreats from those closest to her.

Eventually Miranda breaks down when telling Carrie via a good old-fashioned pay phone that her mother indeed has died.

GRIEF IS A BITCH!

However, for anyone who has experienced the grief of losing a loved one, or going through a severely challenging time, like suffering a cancer diagnosis, you likely can relate to the “dressing-room scene”.

 

The “DRESSING-ROOM SCENE”

Grief can hit anyone anywhere…even when shopping for a bra!

Since Miranda is in Philadelphia and obviously didn’t pack for a funeral, Miranda is forced to go shopping for both a black dress and bra.

A mall is just about the last place you would want to be, or at least I’d want to be, in that state of emotional turmoil. Yet, there have been many subway rides back from the hospital, in which I couldn’t hold back my tears.

Back to the episode, the saleswoman is A LOT! She is overbearing, pushy and even barges into the dressing room while Miranda is trying on a bra! Understandably, she lashes out at the saleswoman, who IS coming from a good place.

Despite being way too much, she IS just trying to help.

Recognizing this, Miranda immediately apologizes and explains that her mother has just died. 

The saleswoman, Lucille, grabs Miranda and envelops her in a giant bear hug! 

Despite being the type of person who generally would never accept this, Miranda completely releases all her pent-up pain and anguish in a stranger’s hug.

 

“FINDING SUPPORT”

When it comes down to it, the crux of the show, in general, but especially this episode, is really about how the various women support one another in their times of need.

There is even a cancer storyline…of course!

 

“GRIEF SUPPORT TAKES SO MANY FORMS”

Each friend in the show expresses her support in different ways, which of course is totally in-line with their characters. 

Frankly, that’s pretty “true to form” in the real world.

When you’re grieving, people will support you in different ways.  

Unfortunately, you simply can’t expect appropriate responses from everyone. Looking back, this episode demonstrates people’s differing reactions to my diagnosis and how now 7.5 years later, their support continues, or has waned. Some people will never understand your pain, while some will just give you random giant bear hugs.  

Whether computers are crashing, or parents are dying, these women provide a support network for one another, which in a time of grief you need! Yes, it may take different forms of support.

Nothing captures this better than the “funeral scene”.

 

The “FUNERAL SCENE”

Prior to the actual funeral, Miranda, in my opinion, tries to deflect her pain with snarky jokes that the big discussion amongst her family is NOT that her mother is dead, but instead that Miranda’s still single. In fact, she admits that she’ll have to walk behind the coffin alone.

During the funeral scene, Miranda begins that horrid walk behind the coffin, distraught and alone. However, because these women are not just friends, but rather, “friends who became family” Carrie runs to Miranda’s side, taking her hand and showing what true support really is – just being there, showing-up and not shying away from the hurt and anguish.

When something enormous and awful happens in one of your friends’ lives, “shock waves go through you,” said Cynthia Nixon commenting on the episode.

 

Grief Itself Takes So Many Forms

Grief is not just about losing a loved one.

You may grieve a lot of things, especially when cancer or any chronic illness enters your world. Grief doesn’t have to necessarily be related to losing a loved one. I’ve experienced both.  

Just a few examples of the things you may wind up grieving:

  • The person you were before you got sick, whether that means “the physical” you in the way you looked before getting sick (i.e. you had hair; no scars; etc.); “the physical” you in the way you moved,( i.e. before you needed a cane or an assistive device, or how you went from a fully active lifestyle to barely being able to walk)
  • the person who was able to freely work, or work without any accommodations
  • the person who never took a pill even for a headache but now requires 5 or 6 medications daily
  • The person that went to the doctor once or twice a year, but now has an entire team of doctors whose appointments you have to keep track of and you seem to spend more time with doctors than you did at work
  • Suffering with fertility, which can range from struggling with the decision whether or not to freeze your eggs, go through IVF, or learning you are unable to have children
  • Relationship issues, whether you’re married, dating your S.O. long-term or you’re casually dating

I GRIEVE THE REAL ME! THE ME CANCER STOLE! “I FEEL LIKE MY ‘MOTHERBOARD HAS CRASHED’ JUST LIKE A COMPUTER!”

There’s so many things we grieve, but personally one of the biggest issues I’ve been dealing with lately is missing the person who wasn’t afraid of anything.

Yet, now I look at invitations to future weddings and my family and friends’ young kids, and I question whether I’m going to live to see another year. I worry if I’m going to get a seizure, that will ultimately take away my cognition and ability to speak. I watched as it happened to my dear friend, taken at just 34 from brain cancer.  

 

I’m About To Crash, Just Like A Computer

Thank God for all my amazing friends and family, but especially my husband who helps me to the bathroom, helps me get dressed, etc.

 

Dedication to my angel, Jaclyn Sabol Patton taken at 34 years old by brain cancer – the world lost so much, when it lost her.

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