In the middle of a heart attack, I wanted only one thing*– keep it a secret and don’t tell my mom, dad or sister.
So, naturally, as soon as I was under and getting the arteries of my heart scoped and scoured of clots, my wife, known to me as She Who Must Be Doing Things Her Own Way, immediately called all of my family and blabbed the whole thing.
In my case, I wanted to keep the heart attack a secret because I didn’t want to worry anyone and because I didn’t want to have to deal with the inevitable smothering care that would result from my family being worried for my health.**
I was taken to task for even contemplating the idea of possibly trying to keep what happened a secret from La Familia for even a moment. Worrying about other members and caring for them is what, I was told repeatedly while being beaten with a fluffed pillow that was supposed to be supporting my head, La Familia is supposed to do.
It turns out, though, that I’m not the only person who likes to keep an illness a secret.
I know two people around my age who have been fighting different sorts of cancer. Neither of them made any kind of announcement and, in fact, tried to strictly limit the number of people who knew about the disease and their fight against it.
Which meant, to me, that the urge to suffer in secret was a thing only dudes had to fight. And, yes, I was wrong again.
My dad’s wife recently beat a bout of cancer of her own. In talking to her, she said what she wanted most was for no one to have known so she could get better on her own and not have to keep talking about it to everyone who found out about it.
I think she pretty much hit it on the head. It’s not that I didn’t want people to care for me in my extremity, but I wanted them to do it on my terms. That is, allow me to say, “Enough. Stop talking about it and stop treating me like an invalid.” Instead, once people know, you have no ability to turn the course of this river of regret flowing through your life.
Or at least, you have no ability to do so without making folks feel bad and I didn’t want to do that because it would then have made me feel bad and that was sort of the opposite of what was supposed to be going on.
As far as I was concerned, the privacy I wanted was perfectly reasonable. However, having gone through something similar on the other side this time, I’m forced to admit that there is something to healthy-ish side of the argument.
When someone you love is hurting, the need to do something —
anything — to help is very strong in most of us. There’s nothing most of us can do medically to help our loved one, so we do what we can.
We make meals. We clean the house. We walk the dog. We . . . get in the way. Because, if any of you dudes are like me, there’s only so much niceness directed at me that I can possibly stand.
When people are nice to me on a continuous basis, I start to get itchy and twitchy and wonder when the anvil is going to drop down out of the sky. And, yes I’m aware that speaks to some sort of deep-seated issue with my being able to be happy. Bite me.
So, I guess the takeaway from today is that, when you’re hurting, allow other people to help you, even if only for a little while. It will make your life a bit easier and it will make them feel better for doing what they can to ease your burden.
Just, you know, do it somewhere else.
Footnotes & Errata
* Other than live, of course. I mean, that was a clear number one with a bullet on my wish list.
** I did have reason to be worried. My mom once mailed me chicken soup when I was away at college and had a cold. Yes, seriously. Very loving. Only slightly psychotic. I also figured this would be the opportunity my sister would take to pay me back for all the years of
torture help I gave her as a child.