Lynn from Western Oklahoma wrote to tell me of an encounter about 20 years ago with her 15 year old son after her diagnosis of cancer.
They were having a typical teenage/parent conflict and he blurted out, “So how do you think it feels to grow up having a mom that’s going to die all the time? My life is awful and nobody wants to hear about my problems because you have the monopoly on that.”
Lynn says the down side of having a relationship where your kid is comfortable enough to tell you anything and everything is that …. sometimes they do.
She remembers how much that hurt her because she had wanted so much to protect the kids from being consumed with cancer and when he threw those words at her saying his own life was upside down, she felt guilt and responsibility for having failed to do that, especially when she had thought she was doing such an outstanding job of managing it all.
When her son saw her reaction, he immediately tried to take it back. She remembers him sobbing and telling her how he hadn’t meant it. She, however, knew he was telling his truth and so did he.
She said, ” I even felt worse that he couldn’t say what he was feeling without such guilt. It was totally circular guilt and regret. I remember not having a clue what to say or do to make this less significant and less painful to both of us.”
Lynn remembers longing for just a few hours to have a respite without argument. She wishes she had said …..”between three and six on Mondays and Thursdays, we are going to forget what is happening that is consuming us.”
Now in looking back at that experience, Lynn wonders whether that was just an “I hate you and I hate my life” moment that teens so often experience instead of the “I hate you and I hate my life, but only because you have cancer” moment that she had interpreted in that split second. She says in hindsight she wishes she had just glared at him and responded with ”I don’t believe you mean that for a single second.” Even, she said, if I didn’t believe it, a least he might have been able to.
A few days ago, Lynn asked her now grown son if he remembered that incident. His response was, “Mom I remember that I said that a lot and I also remember that you said that I was full of it and to stop trying to manipulate you with pity!”
She said he even got her tone of voice down perfectly, and muses, “Funny, I think he honestly remembers it that way. I feel like I must have done something right in spite of myself.”
Tuesday evening, April 21, got a text message from Jim from the Cancer Center in Houston saying, “Good news! Everything is still stable.”
He has been doing the chemotherapy with the usual side effects – hair loss, nausea, lethargy – and it is all worth it because it seems to be stabilizing the cancer….it’s not going away, but neither is it growing!
We’re celebrating and will take all small victories. Way to go Jim!
When I see the word courage, I always think of 6 words – brave in the face of danger, but from this day forward, I will think of 6 different words – Jim, LeAnn, Maddye and Ford Chastain.
I read the April 19th Sunday Oklahoman’s front page storyby staff writer Ken Raymond and wondered if the Chastain family really understood what they were signing on for when they agreed to let us follow their experience of living with terminal cancer.
What I want to say to them is “You are incredibly courageous. Courage does not mean the absence of fear, it means choosing to live in the midst of it, and I marvel at the way you are trying to live normal lives – when the definition of normal for you has changed. ”
Try as this family might to put this aside and forget it is really happening, that isn’t possible. Everything they do gets heightened – even normal adolescent quarrels with parents and siblings - and then to have it on the front page of the Oklahoman for all the world to read – takes guts.
Thank you is not nearly adequate to express to them what I want to say, but it’s all I’ve got.
* Thank you for allowing us to look over your shoulder while you take this very personal journey through terminal cancer.
* Thank you for helping every family with teenagers understand that when they experience exactly what you are experiencing, fights are normal even in a close knit and loving family.
*Thank you to LeAnn and Jim and Maddye and Ford for demonstrating how that automatic stress reaction looks when we feel trapped – fight or flight.
Some people want to fight – LeAnn and Maddye are terrified and furious there is nothing they can do to stop it and if you get in their way, don’t misunderstand the anger that lashes out.
Some people want to flee – Jim and Ford are feeling afraid and helpless and they shut down, withdraw, and get quiet, which is what I did when my husband and I were in the last weeks of his battle with cancer.
The feeling was I wanted to run away. I can remember how guilty I felt because I was feeling that way, but now I understand those “feelings” don’t mean a thing, they are simply the body’s way of trying to offer protection.
*Thank you on behalf of all the families who have yet to walk through this experience. Your openness and honesty will help them to understand their own feelings and behaviors as normal – under the circumstances – and they won’t have to feel so guilty as they might have before you allowed us to intrude on your pain.
I read somewhere that courage is that little voice inside saying I will try again tomorrow. Today, the Chastains are the most courageous people I know and what I know about them is that tomorrow they will get up, shower, dress and face the day again.
My heart is full of gratitude and admiration for them all.
Speaking and reading about the dying experience is not morbid, rather it will teach you how to live with care and appreciation.
For simple, useful, concrete suggestions to use when that time comes, join me on Thursday evening, April 16, 7:00 p.m.at the Baptist Medical Center’s James L. Henry auditorium to hear Megory Anderson.
Anderson is a theologian, author, educator, liturgist and Executive Director of the nonprofit SACRED DYING FOUNDATION in San Franciso.
Her presentation will not be about mourning and how to handle grief, it will not be about the mythology of death or funeral planning. Rather, she will teach us how to be with a dying loved one, how to provide them with something more than pat answers and how to make it a meaningful experience.
We will learn how to use a variety of things, such as music, rituals, poetry or prayer that have been an important part of the person’s life experiences.
To make reservations, call the INTEGRIS HealthLine at 951-2277.