When I decided to start a blog I expected to write about everything I enjoyed most about my life, but as the bard said “life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans”. There will be time for me to share the joys of parenting, pets, and food. There will be time for me to discuss my thoughts about politics, society, and spirituality. Today my uncle is dying of cancer and it is happening too suddenly. I am frightened of it.
My wife, Jeanine, is an ocean of expression. She’s my hero when it comes to sharing her emotions, good or bad. When she’s happy she shines and when she’s content she glows. When she’s excited she sparkles and when she’s angry she flashes! When she’s frustrated she smolders and when she’s sad she flickers. Her emotions burst through her body and out to the whole world. I am in awe of her because of it.
I express my excitement, joy and happiness well enough– anyone can tell you how enthusiastic I am about my passions, but I struggle to express my darker feelings. There were times in my life when I struggled so much that people (some who knew me well) mistook me for being cold, or callous. I’m not. It just wasn’t always safe for me to reveal certain emotions when I was young and I learned quickly to conceal them. Years and years of practice hiding those dangerous feelings, ignoring them, or reasoning them away have turned the habit into a reflex. I’m learning to change it.
My uncle went to the ER on Wednesday afternoon and I left work early when I found out to be at his side. He was too weak to stand on his own, very confused, and hallucinating– just not good at all. Tom has lots of friends and family in the area and we do our best to be with him in shifts when he goes to the hospital; both for his morale and the staff’s since he’s not the best patient! So I sat my turn in the ER with him while my aunt Charlotte did some errands and retrieved things from the house he would want. I’ve spent plenty of time with my uncle when he was ill over these last few years. I was not ready for it.
It was surreal to see him this ill. His hospital band kept glaring at me: AGE 58. 58!?!? How could this weak, vulnerable, confused man be younger than some of my coworkers? Less than 4 months ago he was keeping two ambulance crews at bay for the better part of an hour while he protested his last trip to the ER. Today he looked tired, hungry, frail and worst of all docile! I knew his cancer would take a devastating toll on his body someday (even if I was shocked by its swiftness), but sitting by his side while he reacted to phantasms, and watching him submit to all the poking and prodding without comments, questions or directions– this just wasn’t the man I knew at all. His behavior reminded me of someone on thorazine only he had, had none. The doctors have taken him off chemo believing these may be side effects that will fade. I want to believe it.
Thursday morning I woke up in a bad mood and I was especially annoyed because I couldn’t think of a reason why. I have gotten far too good at burying unwanted feelings! I pray and meditate in the morning so I decided to devote extra time to adjusting my attitude. It worked for a while. I went to work but I felt “inexplicably” sad and frustrated. My supportive coworkers asked me about my uncle and I calmly explained the situation but surprisingly, I felt worse! Facts comfort me. If I face something overwhelming then describing it objectively helps me feel in control and takes the edge off those pesky emotions. Not this time, though. Immediately I realized that the recent horrors wouldn’t stay stuffed in the pit I banished them to. I cannot ignore it.
So I sit, the immoveable emotional object facing the irresistible emotional force. I know that nobody can prepare for grief like this, but I feel even less competent than most– ready or not, here it comes! As helpless and exposed as I feel, though, blogging is helping. I also know I’m not alone. I have God and prayer to turn to. I have my wife and my family to share this with. I have my friends and my coworkers to support me. I can count on it.