When I originally started this blog, I was proud of being the strong one. I was the spouse who had held it together while our family turned upside down. I worked full time, was pregnant with our second child, sat in on countless doctor appointments, tucked in our child and never missed a school event. I substituted for dad during hospital stays and times when getting out of bed was just not possible for him. I did it all with an unwavering faith that our time as a family was not up. I KNEW we would beat cancer! There was no other option.
Several months ago, I came to the realization that I was very capable of being the strong one, but much less capable of dealing with the actual sadness that accompanies illness. One night, after positive results from my husband’s fabulous oncologist, I realized that the only time I cried about everything we have been through is the moment we received his diagnosis. From that day forward, I put on a brave face and soldiered on. No matter what happened, I never waivered. Not once did I let myself believe that we would not win the war the war with cancer. I never broke down. I never let myself feel.
Fair warning to all of the strong ones, being the rock eventually catches up with you. For me, the moment of truth came from a friend’s innocent Facebook share. A country music fan, she share the story of Joey+Rory, a duo who were also married. Joey, the wife, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and had gone home to pass peacefully with her family. Her husband started a blog to document their journey (http://thislifeilive.com/). I couldn’t stop myself from following. I read about her slow decline from perfect health and viewed pictures of her bonding with their young daughter. As the posts became more somber and it was clear the end was near, the amount of anguish I felt for this family and my own continued to grow. I couldn’t help but think that this could have been us. I could have been the one sitting next to that bed. Our children came frighteningly close to having to say goodbye to their father. I recognized myself in Rory – he is the strong one.
Joey Feek passed away this afternoon, at the age of 40. When the blog updated and Facebook flooded with the news, I felt such an overwhelming wave of sadness and loss – for someone I didn’t even know. Their story of love and heartache rang so true and real and so much resembled the bond that Dan and I share that for a moment, I was unable to separate the two. All of my fears, all of the thoughts I never allowed myself to have flooded my conscious. The tears that I never allowed to fall were unstoppable.
I had forgotten how cleansing a good crying jag could be. This superwoman just remembered that she is human.
I am still thankful every day that our family was given a second chance at life. I don’t recognize the life we had 7 years ago, but that’s ok. I love our life as it is now and I will love our life as it evolves into something new tomorrow.
I have been thinking about this blog post for several days. There’s something I really want to share, but not at the expense of offending anyone who we are fortunate enough to call a friend or family member. One of the hardest things about being a survivor’s wife is learning a different way of communicating. The Big C is a scary topic that most people don’t understand. I know that questions are not being asked and comments are not being made maliciously, but I want to give a little perspective on the emotions and memories that those questions and comments can provoke.
On Monday, we attend a wake. One of my husband’s very good high school friends passed away. This was especially difficult for him because this friend was diagnosed with Leukemia around the same time he was diagnosed with Lymphoma. They had a special bond because they endured months of chemotherapy at the same time and could commiserate about the experience. Not only was my husband devastated by the loss, he also carried a certain amount of survivor’s guilt – the “why me” of remission. Although he was determined to attend the wake and provide whatever comfort he could to his friend’s family, he also harbored the fear that people would look at him and silently ask “why did you survive when he didn’t?”. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been intentional, but I can’t say I wouldn’t have done it had the situations been reversed.
We also knew that this would be the first time my husband would encounter some classmates and former friends since being diagnosed in 2011. Everyone would want to know how he was doing. Their concern would be genuine, but they would have no way of knowing that he couldn’t talk about it there. Too many emotions were already swirling around in his heart. He really didn’t have the ability to keep his emotions in check while discussing his own condition.
The moral of the story is, if you ask someone who has or has had a potentially terminal condition of any kind how they are doing and their answer is short, please do not be offended. They greatly appreciate your concern, they are just unable to express their feelings. My survivor does the best he can to talk about it when asked, but it is a difficult conversation for him. The best gift you could give any survivor (or survivor’s wife) is compassion and understanding. They will appreciate it always.
In the meantime, it is important to remember that life is precious; it is also very unfair at times. No one should lose a spouse or a child or a parent at the young age of 42. Treat every day is it was intended – as a gift. You never know when it will end.
Saturday was an interesting day for us. We woke up at the crack of dawn because my sister, mother and I had the fabulous idea that we should have a multi-family yard sale to purge all of the things we no longer needed and clear out some space for the holidays. I had mixed feelings about this, since selling these things, even to families who needed them, felt like selling memories. I remembered the first time I took our 12-year-old daughter out for a jog in her jogging stroller. I remembered changing our son into his first Red Sox outfit in the pack ‘n play. It was definitely a nostalgic day for me.
After wrapping up a successful yard sale, we were able to check Facebook for the fist time all day. Part of me wishes we hadn’t. Our news feeds delivered the message that one of our survivor friends had lost his fight with leukemia in the early hours of the morning. This news hit my husband very hard. A high school friend, they had been diagnosed around the same time and experienced chemotherapy together. They carried a bond that most of us are unable to comprehend.
I suspect that this loss brought a little bit of nervousness. Even though he has been in remission for over three years, there are triggers that will cause him to become apprehensive about his success. It’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m sure that losing a friend is one of those triggers.
For me, this news put the items we sold into perspective. Even though they carried tons of happy memories, they are just things. The memories live on in our hearts. It made me remember what is really important; the people who touch our lives and leave a positive, lasting impact. Rest in peace our friend. You will never be forgotten.
I’ve known my husband since I was 8 years old. Although we drifted in and out of one another’s lives for the first 28 years, the man who I married was not much different from the boy I met in the 2nd grade. He would give anyone the shirt off his back. He always thinks of others first. He has always been a risk taker. Prior to his back surgeries, skydiving and dirt biking were two of his favorite activities. The world has always been his oyster and that balanced out my serious, studious nature. We were always the yin to the other’s yang.
In the face of dealing with the re-diagnosis of several friends, I have watched my husband transition from a free spirit to a much more serious person. He has become more reflective and sadly, fatalistic. Today, in speaking about a friend he lamented that “my time is my time”. I know this is his way of dealing with the reality that if people he knows can relapse, so can he. I am now the positive thinker that believes with all my heart that we have beat the Big C for good. Essentially, we have switched roles. He needed to come to grips with his own mortality and I need to believe that we have a lifetime ahead of us. I didn’t realize that I loved him until I had known him for 27 years. Life is not cruel enough to take him away from me before we have the opportunity to make up for lost time. I am going to continue to believe that – and I have enough positivity for both of us.
Although I’m happy to be back blogging again so soon (which is a rarity for me), my motivation for doing so is a little less positive. I can see this exercise becoming a regular feature, so I’ll try to stick to the topic at hand.
As I mentioned I my last post, we have several friends who have not been as lucky as we have and are no longer “remission families”. We have learned recently that one of those families has come to the end of their treatment options and has begun to prepare for the next phase of this tragic journey – loss of life. This family has elected to involve their teenager in the decision-making process. I, for one, think that this is commendable. Every member of the family will have to deal with the loss. Help them to transition by allowing them to be an active part of the process. Remain a family unit as long as possible, especially when you know the dynamic will be changing in the not too distant future.
Whether or not you agree with the way a family chooses to cope with illness and/or loss, criticizing their methods is never the answer. Blasting them on social media or to their friends is counter productive They are already dealing with a very, very sensitive issue the best way they know how. If you cannot actively support their decisions, please stay silent. Not only are you making a horrible situation worse by being critical, you are potentially destroying your future relationship with the family. Everyone deals with pain and loss in a different way – your way is not better or worse, but it is not the path they have chosen for their unique situation. Be a supportive friend or family member by honoring their wishes. Your opinions are your own. The consequences of sharing them will be felt long after the damage is done.
American author Gail Sheehy once wrote, “People in grief need someone to walk with them without judging them”. Please be mindful of the pain words can inflict on those already suffering before passing judgment on decisions you cannot begin to understand. When in doubt, be kind. Life is too short.