I’ve had a pretty crappy summer. My mom got cancer and went through chemo, and my grandmother passed away, all in the space of a couple of months. During that time, I was sort of going on auto-pilot, one foot in front of the other, survival mode. Part of it is because that’s what you need to do in order to manage life’s challenges, but I also had to take care of my two young kids. While my boys were at school, I’d be at the hospital or at my mom’s, taking care of her. Then, I’d come home to what was supposed to be my “safe place,” and jump right into mom mode until their bedtime. And then, I’d jump into wife mode. I could feel the weight of all of this responsibility, but there was nothing I could do but carry it all, push through. What were my choices? I couldn’t stop being a mother, a wife, or a daughter. People would ask how I was sleeping and the truth was, I was sleeping just fine because I was so damn exhausted.
Of course, my husband was there to lean on for support. He’d give me a hug, be my shoulder to cry on, listen to me wail and curse. But then, he’d ask, “What’s for dinner? Can you give the kids a bath?” Did I mention that I do all of the cooking? I do the shopping. I keep us all fed. I keep our house clean. Oh, and I work part-time. Who else was going to do it? I guess not him. It was like he completely missed that I was being pulled in a thousand different directions. Instead of telling him to do it his damn self though, I’d make dinner. I’d stop at the grocery store. I’d pick up our prescriptions. I would push through. I wanted to keep it together.
Don’t get me wrong: I told him that I needed help. I told him that I was having trouble managing it all. And he would offer to go to the grocery store, or tell me that he could watch the kids while I went to an appointment with my mom. But somehow, these things never happened. Not for lack of trying, but inevitably, he’d have to stay late for a meeting or a client dinner came up. He had good intentions, but early on, I started to feel like I couldn’t rely on him, not really. So, I stopped asking. Why allow myself to keep getting disappointed? I didn’t need that.
He also just wasn’t the one I wanted to turn to when I felt like a wreck. Sure, he listened, but he would say stuff like, “She’s going to be fine. It’s going to be fine,” which was good to hear, but not what I needed to hear. He couldn’t seem to grasp the emotional onslaught of caring for a parent with cancer, regardless of the prognosis. He didn’t seem to get how difficult it was to have the tables turned, to be the one taking care of the woman who had always taken care of me. He would say stuff like, “Well, this is what happens when we get older,” as though I needed perspective. I didn’t need perspective. I just wanted him to acknowledge my pain.
Meanwhile, my friends stepped up like I couldn’t believe, offering food, babysitting services, and more importantly, their unwavering support. They let me talk and talk. They let me feel sorry for myself. They never seemed to get tired of listening. And over and over, they kept reminding me to take care of myself, to get some “me time,” to find some space to breathe. They even offered to watch my kids to help facilitate this “self-care,” although I never took them up on it. While my friends kept asking, “What can I do?” my husband never did. I guess I could have just been more assertive about what I needed, but I didn’t want to try that hard. I didn’t want to have to deal with his resentment, feeling guilty that I’d left him alone with the kids for a few hours. Admittedly, this is partially my problem, but it’s also his. He’s never been gracious about taking over for me — like when I ask for his help with the kids, it often comes with a sigh. Part of me wonders if maybe I did such a great job of holding it together, he didn’t realize that I was actually falling apart.
Let me be clear though: My husband is a sweet, loving man. A good husband and father. I just think that throughout all of this, he seemed to miss the fact that I needed him to take care of me. I wanted to throw up my hands, crash on the couch, and let him make dinner, do the dishes, and put away the kids’ toys. I wanted him to take the boys for a few hours so I could take a nap or a bath or even just stare at the ceiling and sob. Sure, he would take them when I had stuff to do for my family, but not just to give me a break.
But I also just think that while some men are amazing during an emotional crisis, many are not. I’m just not sure men know how to support their partners during the tough times, at least not in a way that’s truly reassuring and complete. They know how to be strong, but not always how to be soft. They’re not nurturers.
Woman are though. They’re nurturers. And I think, they’re just stronger. Women can handle the onslaught. Women know how to be there for each other because, really, we’re more empathetic. We know what we would want for ourselves, so we know what to give. We don’t really have to ask our friends for what we need because they kind of know, and often, they just offer. I’m so grateful for my kind, loving, big-hearted friends with their generosity and goodness and strength. I would have been lost without them. I love my husband, but in the end, it was my friends that really got me through it all.