When Your Back Is Against The Wall, You Can Still Surrender

My friend Eric Meyer recently asked this question on Twitter:

I’d wager this is not simply an “Asking for a friend” post, as, if you’ll recall, Eric is dealing with a daughter who has brain cancer and low odds of survival.  And there is an abundance of stiff upper lips in the Meyer family now, as there are Things That Must Be Done: getting Rebecca to treatment, being strong for their daughter, remaining calm for their other two children – who, being children, don’t necessarily understand that Mommy and Daddy need some alone time.

What is your other choice in that situation?

To paraphrase Mythbusters, breaking down is always an option.

And I know the temptation.  When I was at the hospital with the Meyers during the onset of this, when we weren’t even sure Rebecca was going to survive the next 24 hours, let alone the next six months, I was under a huge strain.  I was terrified for Rebecca, terrified for Carolyn, terrified for Eric and Kat, terrified for myself.  And there was the real temptation to just break down and cry, or to have a nice satisfying argument with Gini, or to do something really psychodramatic and stupid.

I did not.

I am really proud of myself that I did not.

And on one level, that absence of action isn’t something that shouldn’t be lauded too heavily: In the game of life, “Not being a burden to the family of a child in life-threatening danger” is a snap-keep decision, one that I really shouldn’t bandy about as “Yeah!  I did that!”  Because if I hadn’t done that, I would have been a miserable human being, adding to the already-overwhelming stress of the Meyers and forcing them to deal with me.

Yet there are people I know – for I’ve heard the tales – who when something huge like this hit made it all about them, they wailed and moaned and pestered the sick and the caretakers alike, unable to control their anguish.  And so they made the world worse in the worst situation, acting out at a time when they really shouldn’t have.  And often, people let them get away with it because they’re family, and this is a stressful time for all of us, and it’s understandable that Aunt Jocinda might act out…

…but it’s not cool.  It’s never cool.

Breaking down is always an option.

And for families of people like Eric, on one level, there’s no choice in what they’re going through.  You have to be stronger than you ever thought you’d be for your kids, and your wife, and your friends.  You have to grow new muscles to support this weight that the world is tossing so cavalierly on your shoulders.  To them, there’s no choice because the alternative is failure.  And yet there is a choice, because there’s plenty of families in similar circumstances who do break down consistently – ignoring the stressful reality to insist that everything is fine in ways that circumvent the medical reality and damage their kid, giving up and tossing the burden onto the kids or other relatives, giving up on the kid’s future and just cocooning them in a swathe of toys and candy and no responsibility.

Most don’t do that, thankfully.  Because most do the thing that gives them no choice.  But enough do to serve as proof that there is almost always another option – you’re just so completely unwilling to make it that it doesn’t occur to you.

And those who make that choice, even though it is the thing that is 100% expected and moral and correct, deserve a pat on the back.

There is bravery when there are no choices, and there is if not cowardice, a weakness of character.  Because the only time there are no choices is when you are dead.  As long as you’re alive, you have the ability to give up on your family, your friends, your life, and your morals.

Every day you don’t do that, particularly under stresses that have torn other people apart?  It’s a triumph.  It’s a medal of honor.  And it’s a direct thank you from me to you for fucking doing the thing that must be borne.

1 Comment

  1. Jericka
    Nov 13, 2013

    I have had people tell me how brave I am. I took care of Dad when he had Alzheimer’s, I took care of my husband when he had cancer, and I took care of myself when I got cancer after that. I have had people tell me how brave I am, and I’m just not seeing it.
    Maybe it’s a side effect of the perception trick that I used to get through my own personal bramble patch…all the things that could have snagged me, ripped me up, bled me dry.
    With Dad’s illness, I took breaks and vacationed in video games. I played Everquest, when I could, and recharged.
    With my husband’s illness I took care of things that needed doing, but, if it wasn’t directly affecting his comfort and care, or causing the house to fall down, I ignored that worry till after he passed.
    With my own illness, I learned to focus down on only that moment, or only that 15 minutes. I found things that gave me pleasure and I focused on them while I could. When I had pain or illness, I did what I could for my own comfort and distraction. I gave myself permission to enjoy whatever I could, and to ignore anything that I had to. I still did the appointments, the treatments, the tests, paid bills, and did paperwork. I scheduled them and then did my best to distract myself, and take things one tiny step at a time.
    I had the hardest time when I WAS setting everything up, because I HAD to look at the long path ahead. I even told the doctors and nurses that looking at the whole picture was the hardest for me, and asked if we could get as much settled and scheduled so that I COULD only look at one day or one appointment at a time. They did what they could, and so, I could focus on unhooking one thorn at a time as I passed slowly through my brambles, and now I am mostly on the other side.

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