I got a letter this week stating that something had been found on my recent mammogram that required further testing. And I know it could be nothing, or nothing serious, but I have some cause for concern because I’ve consistently felt pain for over five years. Not all the time, but if someone squeezes me tight, or if I lie on my stomach, it’s there. Previous mammograms showed nothing, so in my heart I’m thinking, “It’s finally grown big enough for them to see.”
Brad, my husband, has reacted in typical Brad fashion…which is to say he immediately starts imagining the worst case scenario. He threatens to sue every doctor and mammogram tech who missed it before. He worries, “What if it is something? What if you need surgery, or something?” (I think he really means, “How would we get by if you weren’t working?”) He tells me not to get any ideas about leaving him alone.
What he doesn’t do is put his arms around me. He doesn’t say, “I’ll be here. I’ll take care of you through anything that happens.” Don’t get me wrong—he’s a good guy, and he would take care of me, but it doesn’t occur to him that I need to hear it because from the minute we opened the letter, I went into protective mode. I’m protecting him from his worry and stress. I’m holding my fears inside, I’m being brave and strong, I’m putting on a face that says, “I’m fine! I’m sure it’s nothing!” because that’s my way of keeping him from going to pieces.
And I’ve decided I can’t do it anymore.
If I turn out to be seriously ill, I need you to step up. I’ve noticed in previous times of crisis that you react to what you see, and if I show you a brave face, you must think, “She’s fine, but I’m falling apart.” Whatever I’m going through becomes something terrible that’s happening to you.
But not this time. If this is bad, and I am in a fight for my life, I’m not going to have the energy and patience to baby you through it. I am not the person to talk you off the ledge every day as you stress over all the negative things that might happen and all the “what ifs” that you may have to deal with, if your wife is sick. You can pour all that out on your parents and your friends, because I know you need somebody to listen and support you. But this time, that person can’t be me.
It’s my turn to fall apart. It’s my turn to be the one who’s scared and looking to you for comfort. I need you to dig deep for empathy and compassion. Put yourself in my place and ask yourself what I need from you today. How can you comfort and encourage me, for a change? What worries can you remove from my shoulders, so I can concentrate on getting well? What can you sacrifice, to help me? What face can you put on, to make me less afraid?
This will be new to you. You are the worrier in the family; I’m the one who downplays everything and tells you it will all be fine. But not this time. I need you to be strong now, because if this is bad, it’s my turn.