Apparently, when you have a spouse with a serious illness and two young(ish) children, you cannot physically be there for everyone all the time. No matter how much you wish it were otherwise. Physics, I guess.
April 1, 2017 was not the first time the kids needed us and we couldn’t be there for them. It also wouldn’t be the last time. We (I) had to learn to make need assessments: who needed me the most in what moment and was there someone else who could step in to be in the place I couldn’t be? Which choice would leave me feeling least guilty? That last one is a trick question. I always felt guilty. No matter who I went to be with, Matt or the kids, I felt wretched for not being with the other. It was the year of feeling guilty.
That morning, while Matt and I were packing up to fly home, G woke up sick. She’d been up all night with a sore throat, miserable and needing her mother. Luckily, Matt’s mother and sister were there to step in: separate H, take G to an emergency pediatrician appointment, get the strep throat diagnosis and antibiotics, and then console G when she had to miss her friend’s birthday party. Everything I would have done for her.
We were lucky in that way. I may have agonized over not being somewhere, but I never worried that there wouldn’t be someone ready, willing, and eager to step in to be in the place I couldn’t be. From the moment Matt was diagnosed, we were surrounded by friends and family who wanted to do whatever they could to ease the weight Matt’s diagnosis had added to our lives.
It’s a difficult thing to admit you need help and even more difficult to ask for help when you know it’s the kind of sweeping, far-reaching help that likely can’t be repaid because it would take centuries. But we were eternally grateful for all the help we received.
We arrived home after a long morning of traveling, after a long week of treatment and stress. We dropped our bags by the front door and hugged G and H with all the strength left in our exhausted bodies. On this day, they didn’t yet know that Daddy had brain cancer. They knew he had “headaches” and that we were going to a doctor far away to make his headaches go away. At the time, we didn’t think they needed to know more than that. We thought we’d have time to explain what he’d been through once he was better and they were older. Or, even better, maybe we’d just put on the 60 Minutes special featuring Matt and let CBS explain it all.
So on April 1, 2017, we just hugged them tight and told them Daddy’s headaches were going to get better.