When I feel the need to be strong for someone else, anyone else, that need can be overwhelming, and block out all reason. As a parent I often feel the need to be strong in difficult situations for my daughters, to set a good example for how to be an adult. I wonder fairly often when the situation is over if that was the right example to set.
My husband and I decided to wait to tell our three daughters about the cancer diagnosis for a few days, to give them a long weekend to process it, ask questions and feel loved and comforted during that time. We both thought we were doing the right thing, we pulled ourselves together and found some acceptance with the situation. We figured it would be better to tell them the facts calmly. We did just that.
Surgery came and went. It resulted in the need for chemotherapy. We talked with the girls about what the next steps were factually and calmly.
After the first round of chemo, there were a few bad days, the girls were in school for the worst of it and I could pull myself together, mostly, in the evenings so they wouldn’t be worried.
The next round was right before Thanksgiving break. There were more bad days this time, and the girls were home to see it, right in their faces. I was weak, in pain and nauseous with mouth sores and no appetite or sense of humor, chemo sucks. Mostly though, I didn’t have the time they were in school to pull it all together to be pretty ok in the evenings. They saw that, all of that.
Before the next treatment I got a call from the case worker at work to let me know she was taking care of a problem with the insurance company approving my next procedure, she was working with the doctor, hospital and insurance company to make sure it happened this calendar year—at that precise moment our middle daughter decided to tell us she felt we were lying to her, that I was really going to die and why wouldn’t we just tell the truth.
We were shocked she felt that way. We tried to assure her and reassure her that we were telling the truth about my prognosis and that if anything were to change we would face it as a family. She was convinced we were lying.
The oncologist agreed to let us bring her to the next visit. She explained everything. She was absolutely patient, kind and understanding and answered all of the questions posed by our frightened twelve year old. At one point she felt the doctor was lying to us, the doctor then explained the oath and the law to her.
Over the course of a few conversations, we realized that every time we took time to pull ourselves together we were not presenting our authentic selves. We were ‘being strong’ for the girls in a way that made them feel like we were hiding something. We were– our fears, concerns and general lack of knowledge about what was going to happen. They interpreted it as dishonesty, and I guess I would have too in their place.
The third round of chemo I didn’t try to hide anything, each treatment seemed to be a little longer and a little worse than the previous one. It was Christmas break and I let the girls see everything and do what they needed to and take care of me, sit with me, pick out my hat for the day, hold hands while watching ” Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt ” and a bunch of other shows on Netflix, anything they needed to see or do during the dog days of chemo. They were fine, it was tough to go through, but they experienced as much as they needed to and were better for it.
What we learned was that it was more important for them to see us fall apart and to see us feel and for them to be a part of it and help put things back together. We learned that when we were ‘strong’, we were making things worse. They are loving, empathetic young ladies who are very much a part of this family, they make us a family. They felt the same love that we felt for them while trying to be strong but in a much more meaningful way when we were honestly feeling our feelings.
The next time you feel the need to be strong for someone I suggest you take a moment to ask if that is what they need, or do they need to see the authentic you and take care of you for a little while. You might just be surprised that they weren’t fooled the last time you tried to be strong and they were left wondering why you tried to hide it! Let people in when you fall apart, they will help you rebuild, that is what love is.