There is one phrase that my wife and I have heard over the past few months that sometimes is difficult to process. I have heard it so much I can almost predict when it is coming. I can feel it in the depths of my soul. Someone wants to encourage me. Someone wants to encourage my bride. So, the only thing they know to say is, “You guys are so strong.”
The problem is…..I don’t feel like I am.
What people see in public. What people hear in conversations. All of it is carefully thought out. All of it has been raked over the coals and determined. Sometimes, it all feels like I am lying to people. It’s become a defense mechanism to get through the day-to-day. It used to bother me, but now I am learning to embrace it.
I have this incredible desire to not bother people with our current situation. A large part of me fears that in the background people have no desire to know what’s really going on. At the beginning, I tried honesty and it didn’t work out. Opening myself up left me more bruised than the diagnosis. I became tired of watching people’s faces when I shared. I got wore out by the constant straining to see if there was a glimpse of terror when I walked in the room. I even became tired of worrying if I was oversharing.
I convinced myself that people didn’t want to hear about what the week had really been like. They didn’t want to know what it’s like to watch you wife suffer through chemo. To listen to her cry as she is driving to get another test done, and memories of those first few days of the diagnosis attack her mind. They didn’t care that I didn’t sleep for a month, and still can’t sleep without medication. How can you explain to someone that you and your wife had to make medical decisions that concerned life and death, all while balancing the reality that what would save her would most likely strip her of her ability to ever have children again? I accepted in my mind that people just want to see you smile and wave like the penguins of Madagascar.
Smile and wave Joshua, Smile and wave.
Then I realized something. Some do, a lot don’t, and that’s okay. There is a loneliness to cancer that is inherently painful.
I have spent my life around sick people. Sat with families who were losing and lost love ones. Held hands of parents who lost their children in tragic accidents. I have even led funeral services for individuals who lost family members to the natural progression of age. The difference, I have always felt called to this lifestyle. My way of life makes many people uncomfortable.
It’s been hard to manage the shift from the person who serves to the one who needs service. I am grateful for everyone who has spent time with us, contacted us through social media, called, written, and even sent care packages. If I seem distant, frustrated or even out of sorts, I probably am. However, I don’t want to be the guy who always walks around with the cloud over my head. I don’t want people thinking they need an umbrella just to come see me. Every day isn’t bad, it’s just that there are bad days. Many of those days I am learning to navigate with resilience. The raw truth is, by the end of those days I am totally exhausted.
What am I trying to say? I am grateful that people think we are strong. To me, it feels more like a part I have learned to play, or a conceptual reality I have embraced. For me, it is a form of survival. It’s a way of life. My strength is certainly not embedded in my soul but has been forged through the fires of necessity, insecurity, and the fear of losing a social network. It may be paranoia or a poor view of people, but it’s how I feel right now. My strength is in the hope for a future without Ole Scruffy. One that is covered in the rays of the sun, and christened by the salty breeze as we #LookTowardstheSea.