In the past few days, I have nearly stapled by thumb, sliced off the tip of my finger and vegetable peeled a stipe of skin into the potatoes I was preparing.
I find myself staring at nothing, blink and force myself back to reality.
Sometimes it feels like I’m wearing noise-blocking headphones.
Sometimes it feels like I’m half asleep.
Either I’m not hungry at all, food doesn’t taste like anything, or I just want ice cream since it is easy and actually has a flavor I can taste.
Sometimes my stomach feels nauseous or like I’m carrying a rock in there.
These are all unpleasant new experiences, things I’d rather avoid.
There are sweet people around me who want to help me feel better, who are sincerely sorry that my dad was just diagnosed with cancer and who wish they could do something, anything to make the situation more tolerable.
I haven’t told many people. I don’t know how to tell them, don’t know how to deal with their sympathy.
Before I can tell others, I feel like I have to be ready to allow them to be sad. The problem with that is that I don’t have any help or support to offer them.
Last week a friend of mine left at home her husband, her seven kids, her job working at least 20 hours a week and drove an hour and a half to meet me. She gave up six hours of her Sunday afternoon to help shoulder the diagnosis my family is trying to absorb. This is a gift I don’t know how to repay.
Maybe that’s part of my learning curve, learning how to accept help rather than being the one to offer it.
I have to learn how to respond when people say, “I’m sorry” about my dad’s cancer.
I have to learn that it’s not up to me to live up to anyone else’s expectation of my reaction. If I’m numb, I’m numb. If I’m teary, I’m teary. If the roles were reversed I suppose I would be prepared for any number of reactions. But in my mind I wonder if people wish I would break down and cry so they could feel like they’d helped get something off my chest, like I trusted them enough to bare that part of myself.
It comes down to the fact that I don’t know how to be the recipient of sympathy.
Who wants to learn how to do that? It’s a skill I don’t desire, like learning how to shoe a horse. I’m not interested in being in a situation that would require me to have that knowledge.
However, situations are not always chosen. More frequently they are thrust upon us.
That’s the other thing. I’m worried that it can come across as me making a big deal out of something small, or milking a situation for personal gain (although I’m not sure what I would gain by my dad being sick). I’d rather not have to admit I can’t help with that thing, or that I’m too unsure of my ability to compartmentalize that I can’t trust myself doing that event because I get choked up at the most inopportune times.
Maybe as time passes and we’re further away from the initial diagnosis this will get better. Maybe it will become the new reality rather than feeling like a bad dream that we’ll wake up from. Things will start being more manageable, they’ll feel like less effort.
Until then, I’m stuck in a class I hate learning something I don’t even want to know.
Do you have any websites or blogs that can offer some perspective or tips on how to learn this life skill? Have you ever dealt with illness and do you have any helpful suggestions for how to get through it?