I’ve had a rough week and it’s only Wednesday. But, really, I’ve had a rough last three months. I needn’t go into details as I’m sure they will seep into this hub of my thoughts eventually when the time is right to not be so cryptic. For now, I say this: Perhaps the worst part about growing up is hitting that spot when caring for yourself and your children overlaps with caring for your parents. For those of you in the throws of this season with your parents or another loved one, consider this the hug I know you need.
I’m the youngest, but also a caboose by nine years from the sister above me. From a very early age I was aware of just how much older my parents were than I. Mom and Pop had four kids and a mortgage at the same time that my friends’ parents were in high school, listening to Vietnam-inspired protest music. So I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m not even forty and flagging calls from Medicare and doctors about diet and mobility in the same way I talk to pediatricians about vaccinations and allergies. And while I am capable and scrappy enough to get it all done, I can’t help but feel like a little girl sometimes, confused and scared, just wanting to be kissed on the nose and swaddled. I am now parent and child at once. It’s really hard.
Someone told me last week, as I faced a doctor’s visit for Pop that I feared more than my own death, that I’m stronger than I think. Turns out, I am.
I can hear heartbreaking news about and beside the first man I ever loved. I can hear this news, swallow my tears, and pick up a sword for battle. It’s an adrenaline I’ve never before felt—when love turns to crusade and pain turns to a war cry. I can run on this drug all day and into the night, but when I must leave my post and return home to the place where ballet lessons are scheduled, homework is done, and bedtime stories are read, that is when I lose my drive. My struggle is not in fighting the battle for recovery of Pop’s health, but in recovering and living in the normalcy that was present before the diagnoses poured in.
Sixth grade math homework is not a welcomed distraction while trying to grapple with pathology reports. Deadlines are a nuisance when all I want to do is find something Pop can eat without feeling sick. The lives within my life are tugging. Am I strong enough for all of them?
In December of last year, Santa was very generous. He sent tickets to Taylor Swift’s Reputation Stadium Tour for me, my goddaughter, and my sister. Plans for this concert were giddy and included new outfits, much hype, and a goal for me to listen to T Swift tunes on loop so that I would know more than “Shake it Off.” But there would be a very grave prognosis that would cloud the hype. Suddenly a Mercedes-Benz Superdome of screaming tweens and silliness sounded exhausting. How could I possibly give my energy to something so joyful when something so serious needed my head for action? How could I possibly be carefree when bound by determination to get Pop well?
I could because I’m stronger than I think. And you are too.
I can embrace silliness, like scrambling to learn the lyrics to “Look What You Made Me Do” so I can sing it at the top of my lungs with my Goddaughter who would wait with bated breath to see her favorite musician up close. I can because spending positive energy on anyone strengthens our hearts so that we can love, love fiercely. I can be present for moments outside the pain because joyfulness loosens the snare of despair and allows hope to step in—hope that is always promising, always untarnished, and completely innocent. Hope is the wind in our sails upon choppy waters in the regatta of life. If my escaping reality for a brief moment rejuvenated my body to hope for and encourage Pop for the rest of his race, then I should snag every moment of joy that comes my way. You should too.
I can look at the distractions—sixth grade math, deadlines, and laundry—as breaks from the noise and opportunities to refuel myself for Pop. I can step away from the entrenching darkness and absorb the light because I am stronger than I think. I can smile through tears. I can sing through sorrow. I can laugh through turmoil. You can too.
I know enough to know that I am strong enough for battle and strong enough for merriment in spite of the battle. I know this because hope, hope that has no ulterior motives, tells me so and gives me the courage to do all things, for all things, for as long as I can. There is enough hope for all of us.
And if we are extra blessed, we have someone, like a Goddaughter, to pull us from our fears and make us see our strength.
Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.