“Have a slice of cake. You don’t deserve this slice, but have a slice anyway. In all honesty, you spent most of the day creating it. What, you don’t remember making this cake? It’s full of all the ingredients that you layered in it. Take a bite. Come on, you’ll enjoy the party you created for yourself. “
The day started pretty early. Actually the day started from an early Wednesday morning, The kind of nights I have with Samar when I sleep at the hospital vary day to day. On this early Wednesday morning, she wakes to the nurse’s vitals check. She cries in her bed, calling for “Dah-di”. I come over to her bedside to soothe her, as the nurse continues her checks. The chemo is dripping through her IV and circulating her body. It doesn’t seem to be changing her spirit. However, this time, she refuses to fall asleep. She lay in her crib, looking at me through the slats, calling, “I wan watch Fwo-zen”. I give in. And there she is standing in bed, holding her toy microphone singing along. This was cute the first hundred times, but this 101st time, at two in the morning, doesn’t carry the same cute, inspiring impact. She stays up till 4:30.
Anna swapped with me at the hospital to watch and spend time with Samar. We are looking to work in a routine to create our new sense of normal. We are working out the rotation to cover time with Samar, time with the boys, and time between home and hospital. We are working out the kinks, and figuring out the details that we hope to get accustomed really soon.
The separation impacts the dynamics of our family. The time we spent as a family before is now split into buckets. It’s a period of adjustment for everyone, including her brothers. The time I have with my wife, comes down to talks on the phone, Facetime interrupted by kids wanting to say hello. There are also the brief minutes in transition as we swap duties, or the fortunate days that Grumma gives us, when she watches Samar at the hospital. I miss my wife. I miss our family. (Add a layer here)
Don’t get me wrong, the positive posts on this blog seem to outweigh the negative, but that just isn’t true. The minutes that pass in a day, constantly test my stamina to stay in the positive. “Be strong”, people tell me. “Do it for your kids,” people say. And while the reminders are meant to help and are words of encouragement, I ask myself, what does being strong actually mean? How can I get through a day, without a worry, without thinking about how much life has changed, or thinking about the future? How will Samar’s body accept the treatment? How will we get big brother to understand what’s happening to his sister? What about the three loads of laundry, that still need to get done, or how I’ll be able to cook dinner, rather than making it another drive-thru run. (Add a layer here)
I headed home, tired from the past three days caregiving for Samar. But life doesn’t stop. I head to pick up my son from daycare, then drop him off at MMA practice. I care for the baby, knowing full well I won’t be able to accommodate his hunger cries. (He has yet to adjust to the bottle) We come home and I look at the empty nest our house has become. It’s not exactly home, and I find myself oddly longing for the hospital room. It seems there are more things that need to be done at home, than the hospital. I try my best to bring the house in order. Provide food for big brother, try my best to feed baby brother, pick up toys, load the laundry, take out the garbage, all the while thinking about how fucked up cancer is, the anger stewing, the resentment building. With each and every chore, I find myself more impatient. I snap at big bro, for his simple questions. I get frustrated that there are still dishes to wash in the sink. It’s the mundane shit, complicated by the stress of fucking cancer. (Add a layer here)
I finally say fuck it. I sit down on the couch, tell big bro to go watch TV in his room, let baby brother cry it off to sleep. And I just sit. I let myself feel the layers of pity I’ve made for myself today. I let myself feel the anger and resentment for what’s happened to Samar and to our family. I have my conversation with God, and ask him, WHY!?!?!? Why are you constantly testing me? What is it that you want me to learn from all this? I pause. I take a big bite from the pity cake I’ve made myself throughout the day and I cry.
Strength, doesn’t mean not feeling a damn thing. Strength isn’t hope. Strength isn’t love. Strength isn’t all the poignant meaningful things I’ve shared or realized. Being strong, does not mean to not cry, or not express what you feel, or look past your given situation.
Strength is the action required to motivate and push yourself past your breaking point. Accept the situation, allow yourself to feel every fucking emotion, and help it push you to where you want to be and what you want to do.
And after I cried, I looked at the pity cake I made for myself, thought about all the actions that led me to today’s breaking point. I thought about what I was angry about it, what I was sad about, what I resented, and then allowed myself to place it in the bigger picture. And each layer dissolved with every acknowledgement. The tears stopped, and I found the peace I needed to get through this day. I found the strength I needed, because I let myself feel what I needed to let go of, ending the pity party, and focusing on what I need to get done.
I know there will be harder days than these, but I’m learning to build the stamina to persevere, build the emotional strength I need, to weather the darker days, and build the shell I need to be the “strong” person people say I need to be. It won’t happen because people tell me I need to do it. It will happen when I continue to build the emotional strength I need to get through these type of days. It’s like building physical strength when you work out. You push yourself to the limit. You recognize what works, and what doesn’t, and you find the motivation to push past the pain. The motivation to look past the pity cake, and resolve each layer, comes from the presence to persevere, and look at the bigger picture. Accept what’s in front of me, and motivate myself for my family, for my kids, and for Samar.