Early in the morning on April 26, 2017, H woke up with croup, which for him means a barking cough and swelling in and around the airway and vocal cords. (Wonderful, we needed a little more excitement.) I called the pediatrician and the only available appointment was just after three, which meant G would be home from school. No problem, I’d drag her along with me like I had a million other times.
This time, though, Matt was home. It wasn’t one of his worst days, but it wasn’t one of his best, either. He could stay home on his own and I wasn’t worried for his safety, but he was just off enough that I was afraid to leave G with him. I’d learned my lesson last week at the parade. But I knew he’d say I should just leave her with him. In the time before, that golden time when brain cancer was something that happened to other people, I would have left G home (and been thrilled about it…only one kid at at the pediatrician—what a treat!). But the time before was a distant memory, and Matt wasn’t in the best mental state, so I made up some story for why G had to come with me.
One of the topics Matt frequently brought up when he told the story of his diagnosis (which he did often, and I’ll share the story, both his and my version in a later post), was that I didn’t tell him what the neurosurgeon said immediately after the surgery. I hid the worst of the truth about his diagnosis for those first few days while he recovered. I just wanted him to have space to heal. Or I was afraid to admit the truth. One or the other. Either way, I didn’t tell him the truth and it upset him.
Knowing he wanted truth, let me explain, with the help of a HIMYM reference, why, once again, I hid the truth. (How I Met Your Mother. It’s an amazing show and I couldn’t write an entire year of Matt and me without at least one HIMYM mention.) One episode featured a concept called glass shattering: the idea that once a person’s flaws or a situation’s awfulness has been pointed out to you, you can’t unsee it. Matt and I often referred to glass shattering moments in our life. Like the time he informed me, when G was a baby who wouldn’t sleep for more than 36 minutes at a time, that bedtime was actually awful. Before he’d said those words aloud, I’d just been going through the motions of putting a baby who refused bedtime to sleep because it had to be done. But once he pointed it out, glass shatter: yes it is the worst part of the day and now I can’t unsee how annoying this actually is.
So even though I knew I should be upfront and tell Matt that I was taking G with me to the pediatrician because he wasn’t himself yet, I didn’t. I couldn’t bear to put up a mirror and force him to see what I saw. He’d been so strong and had endured so much, why drag him down? Why shatter the glass and force him to see something about himself he wouldn’t be able to unsee? (If he believed what I showed him at all, that is.)
I don’t blame Matt or the brain cancer for not seeing himself clearly. How can you ever see yourself clearly? I recently realized I don’t always see myself so clearly either. I thought I’d been mastering my grief, really winning the how-to-manage grief race, but I learned just the other day that wasn’t entirely true. When grief out of nowhere caught up with me (caught up, tackled, and stomped), I was left stunned, with shards of shattered glass at my feet, and asking why didn’t anyone tell me. (Not that I would have believed it either, by the way).