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.”