Last night, I met my oldest daughter to catch up and spend some time together. She’s been away through a lot of the past week and we’ve missed each other’s faces through the phone calls and text messages. We needed to share a glass of wine, some time, and some tears.
Yesterday was a rough day, and the end of it brought shocking news about an old friend. I was a mess when I arrived at the restaurant. I tried to pull myself together in the parking lot, I texted a friend to ask her to pray, and I just took a moment. Unfortunately, Allie wasn’t yet in the restaurant and came over to meet me at my car. I looked up with tears and snot running down my face and she was there. Not quite the vision of grace and love I’d hoped to offer her. Well, the good mom didn’t last at my house, she (and they) were always stuck with me.
We hugged hard and dried our tears. We took some breaths, and we finally went in to dinner.
My goal for the evening was to offer her some reassurance that I’m okay, that we will be fine, and that it’s going to be okay. She may be almost thirty, but she is still my little girl. She wasn’t having it. She wanted to know how I was doing, really. She wanted to know about her dad. She wanted to spend some time taking care of my heart. This is the trouble with daughters, they grow up to become women who see and know and care.
My commitment to being honest through this process is still new, and it was tested last night. There are few people on the planet who know me better than my kids. There isn’t much I can get past them. I’m not sure I should even try. So, I told the truth…
I told her that I didn’t know how to answer the “How can I help you?” question. And it really bothered me. After all the years I’ve spent in community, you would think I might have a few suggestions. I know how important it is to allow people to love you in practical ways. I may have lectured a few people over the years about letting people love them in times of trial. And yet, I am at a loss for what I need. We are really fine at the moment, or as fine as we can be.
She offered an important insight. It isn’t my job to figure that out for people. It is just my job to ask for help when I need it and receive help gracefully when it is offered. I feel guilty, like I should have a list in my pocket of things people can do. I want to help people feel better but that isn’t actually my job at the moment. She’s smart, this one.
I told her that I wanted protect my family from days like this. As a mom, I want to protect my people from this kind of pain and uncertainty. I want to cushion the blows and provide a safe refuge from the world. I know I can’t change the way the world works, but my goal has been to offer a soft place to land in the midst of the struggle. It is devastating to find myself in the center of this storm with no way to protect them from my illness.
Her voice grew low and serious as she countered… no Mom, it isn’t your job to protect us from this, it’s your job to teach us how to deal with it. She reminded me that I’ve been doing this all of their lives. She laughed through her tears and reminded me that this is a practice we’ve been perfecting for years. It is true that learning to deal with life on its own terms has been a theme in our lives. Maybe she is on to something.
I told her that the hardest part was the pain in everyone else’s eyes. I didn’t want to be the source of all of this pain. I tried to explain that I’m not apologizing for having cancer. I’m just really sorry that this is happening. Sorry for me, sorry for all the others who are impacted by this.
That’s when Allie “called bullshit” on me. This one is fierce! She said lots of words about love and connection. She reminded me that this wasn’t about cancer but about love and the power of connection. Yes, people are hurting but that pain is because of love, not cancer. I remember years ago realizing that loving people meant giving them the power to hurt me, that opening up my heart to others would always be a double-edged sword. I didn’t realize then that being loved would have the same effect, but I do now.
As I drove home last night, I played back scenes from her childhood. Including many moments I’m not too proud of. I remember standing in her bedroom door as she screamed at me, “Why don’t you just leave me alone!” and I screamed back, “Because I’m not done with you yet!” All the defiance, the extraordinary amount of words, the challenge of raising an old soul. I thought about the ways we fought over almost everything, and all the ways we learned not to fight. She was my experimental child. I reminded her regularly, I was only as old a mom as she is.
I don’t know when this impish girl became such an insightful young woman. I don’t know how we moved from the push and pull of adolescence to this beautiful place of friendship. I don’t why she can see right through to my heart. I just know that I am so grateful for staying in the fray with this one. Our relationship was never easy, but it was totally worth it. A long time ago, older mothers promised that I was the right one to raise this extraordinary child. I hoped I wouldn’t ruin her. I’m so glad we decided to fight for love and connection rather than against each other. She’s a good one to have on my side.