(Picture actually from here.)
(I'm filling in for Amanda because the storms in Australia have knocked out Internet access. She'll be back again next week.)
I’ve got a battle-axe that I carry with me everywhere I go. I’ve had it since Jan 5, 2007 when it was given to me by a doctor who said the words “cancer” and “urgent.” Its blade is sharp and still bloody from previous use.
Back after Maggie was first diagnosed, I didn’t even realize that I wielded such a weapon. Quite innocently, I’d share Maggie and my recent experiences but I was oblivious to the carnage I was leaving in my wake. In an innocent daze, I’d rambled on like a berserker, leaving broken and beaten hearts with every story I’d tell.
Often, the end of my stories would be punctuated by thick silence. Damage would be everywhere. People would be crying. Some would be running for safety, with hearts bleeding. Seeing the suffering I caused while entranced in my own recounting of the awesomeness of what was happening to us caused even more pain. I felt reckless and selfish. My sharing had made things worse. I felt like a clumsy yet huggy Edward Scissorhands.
Eventually, I learned to be gentler with my battle-axe. I learned that the best way to share the latest news was not all at once, but instead, in very small pieces and with many pauses. I also learned that often more detail is worse than less, even when asked. And that people can’t handle raw, honest grief and fear. I even decided that often it makes sense to say nothing at all, even when the voice inside my head was screaming and my heart was aching. There was a time and place and I got to choose.
Last Thursday, my colleague’s father died. Several of us sat in my office, distraught and discussed how difficult death is. They talked about what it was like in the last days and moments. They talked about how hard it was with the morphine and shallow breathing. They talked about how hard it was to accept that their fathers were gone. Then, they turned to me and asked: Chris, have you had to deal with your father dying yet?
The me from not too long ago would have carelessly unsheathed my battle-axe and begun to swing it around. It would have been messy.
The new, wiser me last Thursday did something different. Instead of pulling out my axe, I calmly said “no” and then nothing more. Carnage avoided. It wasn't the right time or place. And, truthfully, I have no idea what it’s like to lose a parent.
I don't know if staying silent at that moment was a good idea but I think it was. On one hand, no one at my new job and in my new life knows about Maggie which makes me sad. On the other hand, no one runs from me or feels sorry for me. I'm accepted for simply who I am right now and that's a very good thing. Eventually, they'll find out.
But hey, if things ever do get rowdy, I've got this here battle-axe I can whip out. I'm not afraid to break stuff. >:-)