by SUSAN DEBOW
They crowded into the hospital room, the same hospital they were born in, to visit their father, who had just had surgery. All but one of them had been born on the floor above. The ninth floor was the floor of hope and miracles and crying babies and proud papas and new mothers whose hearts had just about burst with love for their newborn. The eighth floor, where we all sat and stood now, was also a floor of hope and miracles, but also one of cancer and fear and pain.
When my husband of nearly 33 years was diagnosed with colon cancer in January, the first calls I made were to our children. No matter one is 30, one is almost 29, another 25 and the baby 20, they were still the “kids” or the “children.”
As a parent you always wonder if you have instilled the qualities in your children you believe are important. Are they good people? Do they know how to love? Do they understand commitment? What kind of citizen will they be? What kind of parent? Do they understand how much you have and always will love them?
Like other families, ours is one made up of individuals. My husband and I worked hard at raising strong individuals. Three out of four participated in sports of all sorts. We were on the self-esteem bandwagon along with most of the rest of society. So we did what we could to assist each child in their quest for their own identities.
It was after years of family dinners being missed and vacations shortened because of the fear of getting benched, I realized perhaps we had gone too far down the stream of self-realization. I could not help feel although we raised fine individuals, my vision of what I thought I wanted our family to be had suffered.
I wanted my children to grow up to be each other’s best friends. Along their journeys to finding out who they were, they met others with whom they shared more interests and commonalities. They all developed fabulous friends, which I loved and admired. But I was also scared as far as building a strong family unit, I might have failed.
Family get-togethers sometimes seemed strained. Conversations forced. Commonalities rare. I felt, to some degree, I had failed. Politeness ruled. But did love? And family?
Since January I have found the answer. Who would have thought cancer would be the instigator? The disease nobody wants, the one that takes the breath away by merely uttering the word, opened my eyes to a family that has turned out stronger in reality than it was in my dreams.
The disease nobody wants … opened my eyes to a family that has turned out stronger.
From the moment we found out the news of my husband’s cancer, the outpouring of support and strength we have received from our “adult” children has given me the same bursting feeling of love as when I was on the ninth floor of the hospital giving birth.
They have closed ranks and opened arms and surrounded us like a cocoon. Without my instigation they have called each other, offered support and extended the hands of a family to get us through this life-altering time.
As I was staying at the hospital tending to the needs of my husband, our four children showed us what kind of adults they have become. They have answered the questions that, as a mother, I had been curious about.
Our relationships have changed. So have our conversations. Instead of always feeling “parental” when I talk with them, I feel human. Loved. It is great to experience them rising to the occasion and taking charge. I have seen eyes filled with love, hugs bounded in strength, kindness oozing from their pores. They have proactively stepped up to the plate to deal with the word we all fear … cancer.
As my husband and I sat in the hospital room on Easter morning waiting for the doctor to come in and decide if he would be released, one of my daughters called. She said our “kids” were all getting together at one of our son’s houses. Daughters-in-law, grandkids—everyone. Everyone but my husband and I.
You might think I would have been sad we wouldn’t be there. But I wasn’t. As I sat on the edge of my husband’s bed waiting for yet another verdict in this marathon race they call cancer, I had the biggest smile on my face I had had in months.
We had indeed raised a family.
SUSAN DEBOW is a freelance writer from Ohio. Susan’s husband, Nick, is a 12-year survivor of colon cancer. He now has Parkinson’s disease, but is doing “okay.”