On Twitter, my reply to a post from a woman whose husband said he would leave her if she went through a medical workup to try and diagnose a potentially serious and possibly life-threatening health issue has gotten a lot of ‘likes’. Here’s my exact reply:
I’d tell her to leave him now because he’s shown her exactly what he’s like- an insensitive, cruel, gutless coward who has no intention of keeping his wedding vows. I’d take him to the cleaners in a divorce and use the settlement for medical treatment.
I then followed with this:
Every time I see read like this, my blood boils because my mom broke down after her mastectomy thinking my dad would leave her (which he never thought about doing). But ever since I rage for the women whose partners do leave them when they get sick.
My father used to say you never know what you can deal with until you’re faced with it. There is an exception to that: any life-threatening illness or something you can’t run or hide from.
In August 1995, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer after a golf ball-sized tumor was removed from her left breast followed by a mastectomy to remove her left breast. My mother had to face her own mortality, face the fact that something inside her body was trying to kill her and there was a high probability it would. Cancer is something you can’t run or hide from in any way so there is no choice other than to face it and deal with the best you can.
My mother grew up the daughter of a violent alcoholic father and an uptight religious-fanatic mother. She didn’t talk about her childhood very often but when I reached my twenties in the last seven years of her life, she opened up a little. Growing up, I just accepted she was reserved, not too affectionate and that she didn’t say ‘I love you’ too often. But she NEVER talked to me in a way that was hurtful, cruel, insensitive, or in a way that made me feel like I would never be good enough. She always told me she was proud of me, that she loved talking with me, and that I was a pretty girl, things I’m sure she never heard from her mother. But I also saw her keep her shit together when my dad would rage at her, and then she’d get up with little to no sleep and go to work the next day. And like me, I’m sure she heard shit behind her back and to her face that she was cold and unemotional when she was anything but.
But not long after her mastectomy, we were alone in the house just talking when she said out loud, “What if your father leaves me?” Like the foolish kid I was, I immediately reassured her he wouldn’t. But she wasn’t so sure about that. She began to break down and for the first time in my life, I watched her lose it. She broke down and cried in my arms. Her fear and pain were like nothing I’d ever seen before or since. And I want to say this: my father never, ever talked about leaving her but if he had, I would have gotten her away from him and my last words to him would have been, “You are dead to me.”
My father was far from perfect, but he was there for my mom from the beginning to the end. But he and I were able to make a choice and I think we both knew my mother couldn’t, that she just had to deal with dying very slowly and painfully.
To anyone reading this who has said out loud, “I couldn’t deal with watching someone go through the hell of a terminal illness or anything like that.” Go to Hell where you belong. Shut the fuck up, walk away, and stay away. And don’t talk about not wanting to deal with the pain because those of us who stay with those who don’t have a choice will tell you your pain is nothing like the pain of the person who can’t run or hide from it.
Those of us who stay till the end will spend the rest of our lives grieving, and will only find healing in time, sometimes a long time. This is why I rage for women like my mother, and for daughters like me and husbands like my father who kept our shit together in the face of death itself. True strength and courage are facing pain and suffering head-on then working through the aftermath.
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