Life and relationships

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“Not those people”

Published March 17, 2014 by livinggraciously

On Thursday our goddaughter Rebecca will have yet another MRI to determine whether the toxic chemicals being poured into her system are successfully keeping her brain cancer at bay.

Rebecca is 5 years old.

She was diagnosed in August. Ferrett and I were there in Philadelphia with her and her family while she underwent brain surgery to remove the tumor. We were there to see the x-rays and hear the discussion of the diagnosis and the treatment plan and the prognosis. We cared for and cuddled her siblings, and hugged her parents and did what we could to help care for them. We have been along for every MRI results meeting since they were able to return home permanently after proton radiation treatment. We have walked for cancer in Rebecca’s honor, donated to and helped raise money for her sister having her head shaved for St. Baldrick’s just yesterday.

I still can’t quite believe that Rebecca has cancer. Because the Meyers aren’t supposed to be a family that goes through this. They are wonderful and amazing and I consider it one of the greatest gifts that I am part of their lives. In my mind, this can’t be happening because they are simply “not those people.”

The thing is, “those people” is not a derogatory designation in my mind. My extended family? TOTALLY “those people.” If one of my siblings or cousins was diagnosed with cancer, I would be saddened and shocked, but I would be able to accept it. It wouldn’t feel so impossible. When Ferrett’s stepdad contracted ALS, it was awful, and that he died so quickly from it was terrible and tragic. But while I felt like it was unfair and I was grief-stricken, I never went through this ongoing sense of, “but…this just can’t be!”

I’m not quite sure why Rebecca’s cancer feels so different from so many other illnesses and tragedies, but I do remember the one other person I felt this way about: my friend Annie, who died of inflammatory breast cancer when she was just 36, the mother of four small children. Annie and Grant were also a family was wonderful and amazing, and the notion that Annie, who worked so hard to feed her family fresh, organic food and lived such a green lifestyle, could have this genetic timebomb within her that mowed through all those good decisions? It just wasn’t right! It’s been at least 14 years since Annie died, and I still get moments when it pulls me up short.

Because the fact of the matter is, there is no magic that protects any of us. There is no magical good fortune that keeps illness and accident and tragedy at bay. We are, each of us, vulnerable.

I don’t know how to end this. It’s not a happy entry. I have no deep insight that leads to a positive outlook right now. Do I just fall back on platitudes: hug your loved ones; appreciate life’s every moment? The truth is that this is a dark and scary place, and I’m not in a good headspace about it right now. I spent yesterday afternoon cheering on Carolyn and her friends as they got their heads shaved, getting snuggles from Rebecca, and visiting with friends as we all hang on together trying to feel like we are making a difference. And we are, overall. The money raised goes to research that will help kids in the future, just as the money raised a decade ago and more went to the research that has led to developments that are giving Rebecca a good chance of beating this.

But each of us, in the moment, is just clinging to each other against the cold, howling winds of chance. We stick together for comfort and support. And right now all I can think about is Thursday, when we will be there with Rebecca’s parents to hear the verdict once again. I believe right now that it will be fine, that the MRI will be clear. But believing it and knowing it are two different things, and we won’t know until then.

The poison of always and never

Published March 3, 2014 by livinggraciously

Ferrett and I are passionate people who get along wonderfully until that unfortunate moment when we aren’t getting along. We will never be one of those couples who says, “Oh, we never argue about anything!” We are both stubborn and convinced that we are right.

But one of the things we have tried to do over the years is to learn to fight fairly. To use “I” language, to step back when discussion turns into yelling, to trust that if one of us says, “I need a minute to calm down” that doesn’t mean “I’m going to stomp off and fume and not speak to you anymore.”

And to deal with “always” and “never” language. We are both given to hyperbole. And high emotion in our worst moments. And so at one point we would readily throw around those two words: “You always assume I’m trying to control you!” “You never show me any respect!” These statements had nothing to do with reality, and everything to do with the mental state we were in at that moment, where the world narrows down to the grievance at hand.

But once the disagreement at hand was resolved, there would be a secondary tension based on the accused hurt at being told that he or she was “always” or “never” doing something that they knew was unfair. And that lower-key tension could be carried as a deep hurt for hours or even days, waiting its moment to erupt into an echoing argument, leaving the other person–who had generally forgotten entirely about the moment–suddenly blindsided with hurt that felt like it was coming out of nowhere. And, frankly, ridiculous to the one party while monumental to the other.

So we reached an agreement. We would both do our best to stay away from “always” and “never.”

And you know what? We both fail at it dismally.

In the midst of a disagreement, those terrible words still erupt from our mouths on occasion. But there is a big difference now. Usually, we are aware enough to catch ourselves doing it. And if the other of us points out what we’ve said, we take a step back, acknowledge that we are in error, and start again with calmer, more realistic language.

But even if we don’t manage that, we each know that the other didn’t mean it and we don’t carry it around with us for days. Our dialogue is healthier for it.

And now? I’m working at removing those dreaded words from my internal dialogue. We are our own harshest critics, and we say things to ourselves that we would never dream of saying to our friends. Example: last night at the Oscar party I ate WAY too much junk food. I woke up this morning feeling bloated and logy. In my head, I started scolding myself: you always do this. You never have any self-control around snack food.

And then I made me stop. It was a party. I had fun. I have plenty of self-control, in that these snack foods only enter my house about 4 times a year, but I’m at the grocery store every week and I don’t buy them. I am, in fact, a competent person who is capable of taking good care of myself. I deserve my own love and respect.

Here’s the one always I need to internalize: I am always worthy.

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