For much of my life I’ve been one of those people referred to as “people pleasers” or co-dependent” whatever the term of the day happens to be. In my, and all caretakers, defense most of us are oldest children who came from homes where we needed to take on responsibility or at least learn some really clever coping skills at an early age. I’ve had more therapy than most people and even went on to earn my Masters degree in Counseling so I’ve made a little progress in “setting boundaries” and standing up for myself (that learned behavior runs pretty deep, my friends). Having this disease and being on treatment is really challenging my growth in that area.
First of all I think it’s really difficult for people who haven’t been through this to understand the toll it takes physically, emotionally and cognitively. I have been accused of exaggerating, I’ve been told that if get out and exercise more I’ll feel better (this is true but within limits) and, probably worst of all I’ve seen the disappointment in my granddaughters faces when they want me to do something like go to the park and it’s 90 degrees with 90% humidity and I know I just can’t do it. The other day in just such a scenario I had a bittersweet epiphany.
When I was growing up my Maternal Grandmother had cancer. In those days treatment was much less successful and usually involved a lot surgery. I remember seeing my grandmothers belly, criss crossed with scars where she had been sliced open again and again as the doctors fervently chased the cancer throughout her body. It seemed to be always one step ahead of them. There were times that I just wanted to cuddle on her lap and smell her perfume and feel the softness of her cheek against my face, but wasn’t able to because of a recent surgical scar. Or times I just wanted her to come outside and play or walk with me and she couldn’t. Fortunately it wasn’t always that way, I have many fond memories of going with her to the small town one room library where she worked on occasion. Or going to service in the simple white clapboard Congregational Church. I even remember times we’d all drive down to East Beach and spend the day at the ocean, Granma sitting under her big canvas and bamboo sun umbrella.
Anyway, back to the epiphany; my granddaughters had come up with a plan during a short walk to stop at home, pack up a picnic basket and walk down to the nearest park for an outdoor lunch and a hike along the river. I wanted to go, I really did, but I just knew I couldn’t. I was already overheated, nauseous and aching all over. I felt so sad at the loss of the opportunity to do this with them my eyes began to tear up and at that moment it was as if I could feel Granma, sitting alone in her dark living room after I’d gone out to play alone because she couldn’t come with and I know that at that moment she was feeling the same sense of loss, remorse, guilt and sorrow.
I have never resented her for not being able to do something with me. Part of it was my own mothers gentle explanations of what Granma was going through, and part of it was Granma herself making the best of the good days and even the not so good days. I never for one moment felt that she didn’t WANT to do the things I asked of her, and I never for one moment doubted her love for me. Now I pray that I can have the strength and faith to do the same for my Granddaughters.
© 2010 Jennifer Hazard