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Cracks Appear

I cracked last night, and I mean that two senses: that of a structural crack, and a crack of the whip.  Over something admittedly important, yet still not immediately critical, I just lost it.  Angry lost it.  I yelled at my wife and child, at the top of my lungs, my voice cracking, venting frustration and rage.  I ended up leaving the house for a while, right in the middle of bedtime, because if I’d stayed I would have kept making things worse.

Part of me feels like I failed them and myself, because I was adding to the stress and upset of loved ones.  It radiated outward, a wave of anger passing from me to them and from them to others in the house.  We don’t need any more upset than we already have.  I shouldn’t have been the flashpoint.  I expect more of myself.

But more of me, maybe most of me, knows that strength always has its limits, and that last night, I reached mine.  There were too many weights from too many sources, and I broke.  It was, perhaps, understandable—the breaking, and maybe even the manner of breaking.

Whether you think the manner of breaking was okay probably depends a lot on the kind of household that raised you.  Some families think yelling in anger is merely a louder form of conversation.  Others think it’s a fundamental betrayal of respect, trust, and love.  The calculus often changes if children are involved, and how involved they were in whatever precipitated the anger.

I’m not here to ask for absolution, nor to be condemned.  Nobody else could do that anyway.  Only I know all the specific pressures involved, the mitigating factors, and the paths not taken.  I’m more than capable of judging myself and my actions (and inactions), and deciding whether I deserve harshness or leniency.  Or some combination of both.  I might err a little bit on the side of harshness; I always have, when it comes to me.  If anything, the past nine months have pushed me away from that.

Afterward, when the kids were (mostly) asleep and I had returned home, Kat and I talked, and I set a limit I didn’t want to set, but had to set.  I said exactly that to her, that this was not something I wanted, that I actually wanted the opposite, but it was something that I had to have, or else I would just keep breaking, day after day.  I asked forgiveness for what I was saying.  Asked us both for forgiveness, really.  She gave me hers.  I’m still working on fully getting mine, but I will.

Why am I even telling you this?

Because blogging is a heavily filtered view of reality, just like any other medium.  Here, I choose what to share, what to hold back, and what to lie about.  I do my best to avoid the lying, but to some extent it’s unavoidable, because I’m not going to record every conversation and every incident in precisely the way it happened.  Not even documentaries do that; every jump cut is a falsehood, by omission if nothing else.

It’s too easy to edit out the rough patches.

So many people keep telling us how strong we are, how amazing, how incredibly we’re coping with all this.  There’s a sort of imposed romanticism about it.  I’d always noticed, before we had cancer or even kids, that stories of people who discover they’re dying always get an aura of nobility applied to them.  In the shadow of death, the victim somehow always attains a special glow, one that spreads to those nearest them, bathed in a light of wisdom and clarity and rightness.

And I’ve fed it.  I’ve fed that aura in our own story, in what I’ve talked about and how I’ve presented it.  I didn’t consciously set out to do it, but it’s there.  I read back through the archives, and I can see it.  I shared the best parts, and skipped the bad parts; or, when sharing the bad news, did it in a way that made us, all of us, seem strong, amazing, incredible.

Maybe we are all those things, but we’re human.  Flawed, struggling humans, just like everyone else, just as prone to error, just as capable of hurting loved ones with our words and outbursts.  Inside the aura, there is no nobility.  We don’t get a special, knowing inner light.  There is no melancholy beauty, no surplus of grace.  We don’t get bonus abilities.  We have more help than anyone could ever dream likely, all the hundreds people who lend and have lent their hands, their ears, and their encouragement, and still we struggle imperfectly with ourselves and each other and the demands we must meet.

We’re human, with every drop of beauty and ugliness that label carries with it.  The angel and the demon, all rolled up together.

We cry and we crack, inside and outward.  We stumble and fall and fail and flail.  We simmer and seethe, and also we soothe.  We give and forgive.  We hold to each other and hold ourselves tight.  We do what we can, as best as we can, as long as we can.

And when we falter, we patch the cracks as best we can, make our apologies, and try again.  That’s what keeps our failings from making us failures.  We try again, one day at a time.

That’s not noble.  It’s not even all that remarkable.  It’s simply what has to be done, over and over.  Just like everyone else.

13 Responses»

    • #1
    • Comment
    • Fri 30 May 2014
    • 1450
    James wrote in to say...

    Eric, I’ve followed your blog for almost ten years and I can’t tell you how difficult it’s been reading these posts. But I understand they’re a powerful outlet, and in the last few years I’ve lost many friends and acquaintances to cancer. Your humility and honesty is amazing. I won’t unsubscribe (which I could easily do) as I daren’t give ignorance nor cancer that victory. Everyone has a breaking point and hey, sometimes we need to get back to our base instincts to relieve stress. I’ve done things under stress I never though capable. It’s regrettable but alas, just human nature. Keep blogging and I continue wishing all the best for you and your family. Stay strong.

    • #2
    • Comment
    • Fri 30 May 2014
    • 1452
    Doug wrote in to say...

    Fair enough. And responding to blog posts is no better. I expect every comment posted wishing you and Rebecca and the family only the best is sincere and I expect that’s true of the admiration you’re offered.

    But what we’re all doing, at some level on purpose, is trying to be closer to things and people that are far away. Just for myself, I never thought you were describing a perfect self or a perfect family or even a noble self or family. What you’ve been describing is a situation that would crack me and most of us and break a lot of us.

    I think what you’re hearing, expressed as admiration, is just the wish that you get through this and that the getting through doesn’t cost us all your beautiful daughter.

    • #3
    • Comment
    • Fri 30 May 2014
    • 1505
    Christy Collins wrote in to say...

    It’s been my experience that people mentally alter narratives to suit them, either because they have trouble processing the uncertainty, or to distance themselves from a painful narrative. Making people dealing with medical complexity/crisis into heroes is a kind of distancing. I don’t think you are fully responsible for this, I’ve posted things that were brutally honest on Facebook and watched a whole thread of people turn it into something that it was not. We’re mostly all doing the best we can. I hope you won’t hesitate to keep telling your story.

    • #4
    • Comment
    • Fri 30 May 2014
    • 1513
    Roberta wrote in to say...

    Eric, please don’t beat yourself up here. I’m surprised it didn’t happen before now. For everything you share here, I am sure there is much more you keep inside. I know that if I hold things in for too long, they start to leak out, and I feel like I will explode. If I am surrounded by people suffering from the same things as I am, then I try not to use them as my sounding board. But…. then who do I vent to, to keep from bursting? It’s a difficult balancing act, and your outburst is completely understandable.

    Have you and Kat considered speaking with a family therapist or counselor of some sort..?

    • #5
    • Comment
    • Fri 30 May 2014
    • 1842
    Heather S. wrote in to say...

    Eric,
    Please forgive yourself. You are husband and a father, and I’m sure that you’ve been trying to put forward the best possible face considering what your family is going through. I cannot imagine how angry, hurt, and sad you must be, but I would be truly shocked if you were none of those things.

    Please know that there are many of us who continue to hope for you all.

    • #6
    • Comment
    • Fri 30 May 2014
    • 2113
    Barbara Shapiro wrote in to say...

    Eric, I hope you’ve found a way to forgive yourself completely, just as you would forgive any friend who came to you with this story. We all have a breaking point. Each one of us out here who has, or has had, a child with cancer knows only too well what that breaking point is. You’ve all been walking that tightrope for a long time. One day there’s hope, one day there’s not; one day there’s a miracle in sight, one day there’s not. It’s the constant vigilance, constant changing of hopes and expectations, constant feeling that your heart is being ripped out, constant anger alternating with fear and hope and bargaining, and sometimes joy, that makes us reach our breaking point. But you know all this. Cancer is a heat seeking missile that shows no mercy, even if we get through it. So you just keep going. You figure out your limits, and just keep going.

    • #7
    • Comment
    • Sat 31 May 2014
    • 0059
    Bridget wrote in to say...

    I was one of the people who told you that you are an inspiration and that I would have cracked long before you did. If that heaped any more pressure on you in any measure (a la “romanticism”), that is truly unfortunate, but I cannot even offer you an apology for it because I’m about to do it again right now.

    You are still an inspiration to me. My assessment won’t change, even in your weakest moment. Even if you said hateful, abhorrent things, I am not capable–in this moment–to do anything other than forgive you and admire you.

    You are bearing the unbearable, sir. How could you be expected to do so without ever falling down? I know you must. I know you aren’t perfect. I know you’re human. I know you have failings, because we all do–and that is the great equalizer. You inspire me because you are as open as you need to be, even if that openness feels fraudulent to you in retrospect.

    • #8
    • Comment
    • Sat 31 May 2014
    • 1936
    dj wrote in to say...

    Eric… You’re right, this one is yours alone. There is nothing anyone here can or should say that makes any difference. It’s yours to decide how to respond, that’s the human dilemma — everyone’s dilemma (in case you thought you owned life’s troubles). You know you, and you’re the only one. Here’s hoping that when your sensors tell you that you’re about to blow, you’re not pointing at anybody – it’s a lot easier to clean up the mess.

    Explanations can allow the future to be corrected, excuses only prevent it. (willing should you need to chat, or not)

    • #9
    • Comment
    • Sun 1 Jun 2014
    • 0051
    Carla wrote in to say...

    Great post. I cannot judge you without first judging myself. And I can’t help but LOVING this post. No body is perfect. Life is not perfect. Being human means having some lovely highs and terrible lows. But our resilient spirits can handle anything if we are honest with ourselves as you have been honest in this post. It’s uphill from here. I wish you and yours the best.

    • #10
    • Comment
    • Sun 1 Jun 2014
    • 0759
    Jonathan Burne wrote in to say...

    On 23-May-2014 my partner of 41 years died. For the last month of her life, with lots and lots of help, I nursed her at home.

    Every night I would email friends and family an update on my loved one’s condition. It was my daily release. Once a day I was forced to organize my feelings into sentences much as you are doing in this blog.

    You are putting your own life on hold for a loved one just as I did. However, I had the luxury, yes luxury, of knowing the end would sooner rather than later.

    For you, and yours, it is much, much harder. There is still hope, no matter how slender. Confusion, frustration, anger? All perfectly normal.

    Please keep writing openly and frequently. Be embarrassingly honest. Your candor is inspiring.

    • #11
    • Comment
    • Sun 1 Jun 2014
    • 1013
    Lisa wrote in to say...

    Cancer sucks! There’s no right or wrong way to handle it. You just live one day at a time and do what you can to get through it. The most important thing is to forgive yourself and move on. People say you are strong because you are uniting together as a family and fighting an impossible foe. Some families can’t handle that and splinter apart instead of supporting one another.

    • #12
    • Comment
    • Mon 2 Jun 2014
    • 0057
    Ellen HS wrote in to say...

    There is so much wisdom in this post. It would be amazing under any circumstance but the fact that you are able to see and express this now is all the more incredible. Or, perhaps that is itself a function of the fact that going through the impossible lends itself to these realizations.

    And now my comment almost makes it sound like the point is going over my head – but it is not. I know (unfortunately I know all too well) – the writing is here, the comments are sending love, but yes of course we in the internet are not there to see that in fact you are a human, a human going through an agonizing situation, and therefore your behavior in the moment to moment can only be human as well.

    And yet. Still. That’s okay. That is just how it is.

    Keep loving, keep writing, keep being human and flawed. It is what it is.

    -Ellen, a total stranger, but this post moved me and I could not keep myself from commenting.

    • #13
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    • Wed 11 Jun 2014
    • 0751
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