Tuesday, November 26, 2013

My Battle Axe

(Picture is a selfie from last night and totally real. 
This is my "I'm a deep thinker" look.)
(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.  >:-)


  1. I love this. We can't help but to swing that battle-axe around in the beginning. It's like we can't believe we are really holding it and maybe as we swing and cause pain, someone will grab it away from us. Then we'll be normal again. We have to see what is going to happen when we test it's power. I think you were pretty powerful without it when you answered "no." Like you said, it still is by your side, if you need it.

  2. I, too, have chosen to be silent on occasion. Having lost both a parent and spouse, and now watching my Dad slipping away, I realize so much more about life and loss and how to cope. There's a time to be quiet, and let it be, and a time to open up, and share what I've learned. Mostly it's not about me anymore to anyone but me. Nice to read your words, again, Chris. Bad ass selfie!

  3. At almost six years out, I am also silent. I have found that discussing either my marital status or cancer with people I've recently met tends to suck the air out of the room. Nobody wants to know, and quite honestly at this point, nobody gives a sh*t. I keep my stuff to myself.
    I have only told two people where I currently work what my truth is. I don't plan to discuss it with anyone else. When I move in a few months and leave this area and the house I shared with my husband, I will also not tell anyone. That information is saved for those who I want to become close to and is not for public consumption.
    I get tired of people feeling sorry for me and offering their unsolicited advice.
    Amazing what we do to maintain our sanity isn't it?

  4. Kudos to you Chris - I haven't quite reached that stage yet (18 months out) as I don't want anyone to forget how important my partner was to me - how much we loved each other, etc. My biggest fear is that people will forget about him (and I guess deep down my fear is that I will forget some important things/memories - even though I know they will always be buried/burned in my brain somewhere). I agree though, it isn't always about me and my grief...that is part of moving on with life...it's so hard though... I have lost my dad (almost 30 years ago) - who was my best friend, business partner as well as my father; and now I have lost my companion (he and my dad never met - at least not in "this life"...) who was my soul mate, confident, best friend and love-of-my life.

  5. This resonates with me. I lost my father to lung cancer in April 2012, and my husband passed away suddenly in his sleep from natural causes less than three months later. I bless the people who didn't run screaming from me in the early days -- I simply blindsided those closest to me without knowing it. I am fortunate that so many people have stood by me despite my clumsy efforts, and I've found that making friends who learn of my losses without being invested in them has been helpful in finding my equilibrium. I no longer feel like a social pariah all the time.

    It's been almost 17 months since I lost my husband, and in many respects, it is harder now than it was a year ago. Perhaps it is because the pain of grief isn't all I know now, and there is more space for memories ... and the possibilities of years still ahead without him. Perhaps this "equilibrium" takes more energy than I realize -- I am thankful that my grief doesn't seem to be apparent all the time. And as much as we encourage each other to express ourselves and do what we need to do to get through our grief ... being silent about it in certain circumstances can be more helpful than we might know.

    1. I really loved this post - boy can I relate! When my fiance died last summer, I found myself unfurling all of the ugly pain anywhere and everywhere that I could. I remember telling one of my friends one day on the phone something along the line of "I'm in so much pain that I don't even know what to do anymore except to just try and escape it". Obviously she didn't have an answer and I was looking for someone to. Eventually I realized no one had one, and I just had to surrender. Now I am much better at thinking of others in relation to sharing about my loss. I'm a lot more careful and respectful about where I share, when, and with whom. But last year, phew man, I sure did have some epic axe wielding skills! lol

      Thanks for this - you are a great writer! I am actually joining the team here soon to take Melanie's spot... so, it's wonderful to meet you neighbor! I look forward to getting to know and Maggie more.


  6. I never thought about the reality that I am carrying a battle ax..wow....I have got to think about this more...it mught explain why no one is asking me how I am or dont bring up my John's name...they dont want to see the battle ax...am almost 19 months out...

  7. Love it! The picture and your post...It made me laugh.

  8. Chris, if you are ever in the US please find me & carry your axe with you! I only would like to use it on the people who say " I can only imagine what you have been through" No you have not a clue! Not that I would wish this pain on anyone but do they know not only did we lose a spouse, we lost our best friend, companion, lover, father or mother of our children, date night, someone to loves us no matter how horrible we could get or how horrible we look when we wake up, someone we could talk to any moment of the day or night, someone that we could laugh with or laugh at, someone to hold you at night or kisses day or night....No you cant even imagine the loneliness or the heart break... My husband passed away 2 1/2 years ago.. and the loss is greater now because he is no longer here and I miss everything a husband & wife share.

  9. Keep writing Chris. That's all.