During my entire life, I watched my parents take care of other people. They prepare meals for those who need them and, when their family or friends can’t drive, they take them to the store, post office, doctor visits and any place else they need to go.They are the ones who show up in your hospital room, who care for the elderly, who regularly visit their loved ones in a nursing home, who sit with their friends as they are dying, who show up for a funeral.
Every month for the past seven years, since my diagnosis, they drove over 600 miles each way to take care of the kids, my husband and me during three of my chemo days. During the times when I had surgery, they stayed for longer stretches.
My father – who owned a grocery store and was a butcher his entire adult life – did the grocery shopping and made sure we had fresh food in the house. My mother cooked every meal (even delivering hot lunches to my kids at school) and maintained the kitchen. I loved that she was at home there and ran it like her own. They played with the kids and supervised their schedules. They kept the house clean and made sure that life was easier for my husband. They kept me company as I lay in bed or figured out which drugs helped with nausea and which simply made me a crazy person.
Because I watched them take care of so many others, I took for granted that taking care of me was just part of “what they do.”
This past winter, they didn’t come to visit and help. Granted, we had record snowfall this past winter in Boston, so I assumed that kept them at home. Plus they were getting older (I didn’t like to admit that) and the drive was long.
I missed having them around but was fine with it. My basic assumption is that help comes in many forms and not to hold expectations of what others should do for me. I’m blessed to have help at all!
But the other weekend, my husband shared with me that my parents are coming less frequently because it is hard for them to watch me go through this. Yes, I have good days, but because they are here to help, they see me on my not-so-good days. And to be honest, even my good days are not “normal;” even when we visit on Christmas (for example), I spend a lot of time sitting or in bed.
I don’t like to think that the people I love are suffering because of what I am going through, so I mostly ignore that. But here I was, face to face with the fact that two of the strongest people I know, people who do this as a way of life, find this hard. How difficult it must be. And if it is difficult for them, as adults, how difficult it must be for my children to live this every day. I was deeply sad.
I wondered if I should just stop, if that would be easier for everyone. Then anyone who needs to could mourn for a bit and get on with their life. I know, spoken as one who has not lost a parent, sibling, spouse or child.
I don’t like to feel sorry for myself so, after whining to a friend, I showered then took the dog for a walk.
A few houses away, the dog stopped to relive himself. I noticed that it was in a neighbor’s front lawn, but it was on some rocks near a flower pot. Probably not ideal, but at least their grass wouldn’t turn yellow. Besides, it was just another thing on my list of things that I cannot do anything about.
I felt like it was okay.
Another neighbor did not. She saw this and let me know in no uncertain terms that my dog was not welcome there. I was feeling so down that I couldn’t look at her. I just apologized and walked on.
As I walked, I continued to think. I was now sad AND angry. Who was she to talk to me that way? I tried to remind myself of who I was, of the good and strong things I have done. I wanted to feel like I was better than her. I told myself that, if this was her biggest worry then how small her life must be.
I also knew that when I am down, I tend to attract a lot of negative energy, and I was certainly down. I had to get out of this cycle or more crap would be coming my way. How could I break this cycle?
I tried to be generous and think positive thoughts about this woman. Maybe something heavy was on her mind this morning? Maybe her life is challenging in some way that I couldn’t see.
I hated that I didn’t stand up for myself. In my mind, I considered what I might say if I had a do-over, how I might handle it.
And at the bottom of all this, I kept wondering, why I am still here? Life felt crappy. I didn’t want to be here. Why doesn’t this all just end?
Walking back toward home, I noticed this woman still in front of her house, hosing down her driveway. I stopped in front of her, intending to tell her….I don’t know. Something.
She kept hosing the driveway and didn’t look at me until I spoke.
“I want to apologize,” is what came out of my mouth. “I’m sorry. I don’t usually walk the dog around here. You won’t see us again, but I want you to know that I didn’t intend to cause a problem.”
She started telling me about the rules for walking a dog, where they can go to the bathroom, etc., and I listened. She was clearly upset and focused on this issue, and it felt bigger than just me and my dog.
When she finished talking, I apologized again, and my eyes welled up with tears. She tried to console me.
“I’m sorry. I just had a really hard morning.” And I found myself telling her about it.
Her entire being changed, and she hugged me. She apologized for being so hard on me and told me why she was fixated on this topic this morning. She cried with me.
We talked about other things in our lives when she suddenly said, “God wants you here for a reason. And you have to take care of those boys. They need you.”
Unprompted, it was the answer to my question and exactly what I needed to hear. Maybe the path to get to this message was painful, but that path got me where I needed to be, and I could finally move forward from here. A gift, from an unlikely source.
So I need to remember, not only the message she gave, but also that when a moment is uncomfortable, it may be taking to me someplace I need to go.
Hopefully, you can get your messages in more fun ways than this. And hopefully I can too!
Note: A few details of this story have been omitted and a few have been slightly changed to hide the identity of the woman. I am grateful for all that she did, but she would be mortified if others knew who she was. I really believe she was doing God’s work, but I would hate to add to any burden she feels.