11/05/2012 12:08 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

The ONE Thing to Never Say After a Long-Term Illness (or "Losing the Battle" and Winning the War)

For your laugh-along pleasure, the following are some of my biggest pet peeves:

  • Driving behind someone who hasn't turned off their indicator for the previous five miles.
  • Items that are missing price tags; inevitably discovered while at the checkout counter and when there is a long line of impatient shoppers behind me.
  • Use of the non-word "irregardless." There is no such word.
  • Being behind someone at the ATM machine who is attempting to get a real estate loan ( least it feels that way).
  • Same thing goes for the drive-thru at Taco Bell (the menu simply has not changed that much).

Indeed, these are petty annoyances which might bring a smile to your face. However, I do have one very serious pet peeve. Actually, it's less of a "pet" peeve and more of an "all grown-up, full-sized" peeve.

That would then be the phrase:

"He/she lost their battle with..."

You have read it in newspapers, you have seen it in obituaries or heard it at funerals and you have certainly heard it on the news many times -- you may even actually say it yourself. After someone passes away (generally after an extended illness, infirmity or the sustaining of serious injuries), it is commonly stated that they "lost their battle with..." The blank is then filled in with the illness or injuries to which the person succumbed and to which the battle was supposedly "lost."

Both the phraseology and the practice drive me absolutely around the bend, and with good reason.

My late husband Mike bravely battled his illness (ALS/Lou Gehrig's Disease) with incredible strength and with every fiber of his being for the entire two years and three months that he suffered -- and he certainly did suffer. First he lost the use of his hands and arms. Then he lost the use of his legs. He soon lost his ability to communicate and eventually his ability to eat, drink or even swallow... it was suffering of the highest order. Yet he fought on. He fought daily and he fought in the overnight hours. He fought in the hospitals and he fought at home. He fought long and hard and just as stubbornly as the ornery sweetheart those who loved him knew him to be.

Does it then mean that because Mike did not survive what we all know to be a terminal illness, that he "lost the battle" with Lou Gehrig's Disease?

Absolutely not.

Mike was a well-known, oft-decorated and very high-profile police officer for twenty-eight years and it naturally followed that there was local media interest in his passing. While being interviewed by one newspaper and even in the midst of tremendous grief, I was lucid enough to request that the journalist refrain from stating that Mike had "lost his battle" with ALS. I politely asked the journalist to instead state that Mike had passed away "after a two-year battle with ALS."

Read that again. There is a huge difference.

How could anyone possibly be portrayed as "losing the battle" when they have fought illness or catastrophic injury with determination and with courage, all the while holding tightly onto hope and optimism? To "lose the battle" means that there was no fighting in the first place. Without any doubt, if your loved one suffered -- whether it was from a long-term illness, short-term illness, catastrophic injury or catastrophic circumstances... they fought! They fought hard. They took treatments; many of them worse than the illness itself. They took therapies; physical and otherwise. Perhaps they tried experimental medications or were sustained on life support. Maybe they were involved in an accident or otherwise tragic circumstances from which they did not recover.

Whatever the case and no matter the situation... they fought.

And what about you? What about your battle? What about your fights? You fought too; I know you did. You fought to keep your beloved alive and moved mountains to do it. You lifted their spirits when they were having a bad day. Perhaps you fought insurance companies who dragged their collective feet or refused to render benefits altogether. Maybe your fight was with hospitals that would not extend stay(s). You might have fought employers who denied you time off work or schoolteachers who may have insensitively dismissed what your children were going through. It makes no matter. You fought fights and advocated on behalf of your beloved; these are fights that many people do not understand. Most of all, you were there until your loved one's battle ended and now you are continuing your own "battle" -- your fight and ultimate triumph over your grief and your pain.

Those who fight do not "lose battles." The battles instead come to an end. Of course, these battles did not end with the outcome for which you had hoped and prayed -- but in no way does this mean that your beloved "lost the battle."

Neither have you.

If you have found yourself even once using the phrase, "My husband/wife/partner/mother /father/any loved one lost their battle with...", allow me to encourage you to adjust your thinking. Instead, try saying, "My loved one passed away after a battle with ..." Let's leave the word "lost" out of it. Your beloved was not a "loser" of any kind; nor are you. More important, even with all of the pain that you have experienced, you are healing and you are moving forward.

So forget about "losing battles" -- because when it comes to what you have endured prior to and since losing someone you loved very much, you are not losing any battles...

You are truly winning the war.

For more information about Carole Brody Fleet and Widows Wear Stilettos, please visit

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