I wrote this in June. Just now finding the courage to post it. The courage to be vulnerable when I preach about the importance of vulnerability all the time. I guess I am learning that it is okay to break your own rules some of the time.
As of today, my Daddy has finished his treatments, and we are entering a time of healing before it is time to explore potential next steps.
“I found out that PopPop has cancer today. All I can think is how every little boy should have a PopPop to love him like you do.”
That is what I wrote in Jefferson’s baby book on June 16, 2019. It was just a few hours after my mother told me the news…told me that the lump on his neck came back positive for cancer…that they had a meeting with a chemotherapy specialist on Wednesday…another meeting with a radiation specialist on Tuesday…and surgery was a possibility.
I was driving home during my daily commute. I tend to make most of my phone calls during my commute – it makes the hour drive go much quicker. I knew Daddy had an appointment that day about a lump on his neck. I knew that my mom had gone with him. I knew she probably would not have done that unless she thought there was a reason for her to hear the news.
I didn’t cry on the phone with her. She told me not worry. I admitted it would be impossible. It wasn’t until I saw Jefferson that I started to cry. I spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the nonsense babbles of my son on the front porch and sweet smiles during tickle time. While Bradley put Jefferson down for the night, I mindlessly cleaned the house in preparation for a visit from the Lowe side of the family that weekend. The dusting was a pitiful distraction (and reminded me that I do not dust nearly enough) but a distraction nonetheless.
And then I went to the dark place. The place I always retreat to when I need to process negative feelings. Feelings of grief…worry…but mostly anger. When the world starts to fall apart, I get angry. Angry that my perfectly, color-coded organizer didn’t prepare me for the uncertain. Angry that something, such as illness, is threatening my family. Angry that I don’t live closer to my family. Angry with God that there isn’t more I can do other than pray…an act that honestly felt worthless during those first days. Angry that I didn’t have more PTO since returning from maternity leave. I was so angry that my tears felt hot from it, as if they were carrying that anger with them down my face. But no matter how many angry tears I cried, there was still more anger inside.
The blessing and curse of being a social worker is that my career is centered around helping others process their emotions during difficult times. I pride myself on being a good social worker…on being empathetic and sincere…on walking with people where they are. All of that said, it is really fucking hard to social work yourself. All of those theories you learned in college sound really great when you are not the one knee-deep in the muck of your feelings. So despite all of my emotional intelligence, I just need to sit in my funk for a few days before I can start any type of healthy coping.
Telling my friends was harder than I thought. Mainly because I knew they would check in on me once they knew…and I don’t always like to take company to the dark place. I prefer to wander it alone. But I knew I would need that love and support. So I also told them that I might not respond to texts and phone calls for a bit. They know me. They understood.
That first night I asked Bradley what it felt like for him when his mother was diagnosed with cancer (she has been cancer free for years!). He talked to me about his own anger during that time and his gratefulness for her health now. He is always so honest with me…and I don’t always see him sharing his private thoughts with others. So I hold onto his words carefully, because I know they are just for me. And that makes them special.
I debated whether to write about my dad’s cancer in Jefferson’s baby book. But the truth is, he won’t read these words until he is an adult. And I want him to know that our lives were not / are not always easy. We will experience hard times. But we will also endure it as a family…we will still find joy among the grief…that he will never be alone in his tribulations…that he is perhaps the only thing that could have brought me joy on that day. His perfect smiling face and his sweet little snores while he napped on my chest forced my heart to save some space for joy. He reminded me that I cannot stay in the dark place for long because I will miss out on those beautifully tiny moments of happiness that come from having a new life in your home. And I was grateful for his blissful unawareness.
Please know that I am not sharing this because I expect you to do anything. Writing is part of my process for crawling out of that dark space. If you reach out and don’t hear from me, know that I appreciate your thoughts but even the act of responding feels exhausting some days. Honestly, I am not too worried about hurting your feelings right now. I have other worries on my heart. So don’t take it personally and know that my silence is not the same as ungratefulness. It is simply a byproduct of where I am in my life right now.