Chapter 8A: Sherri
I Want to Break Free!
Independence and coming out of my bubble
I was a dependent. 100% dependent on one person: John.
After some of the surgeries endured and all the medications I had to take, driving was prohibited, which made perfect sense. Once I started chemotherapy, driving just became something I used to do. Drugs and chemo decimated my body, weakening me physically and mentally. Making the split-second decisions that are required when driving a car was beyond me at that time, and me behind the wheel was unsafe for me, for the car and most definitely to anyone on the road
Settling into this new role of the “girl in her bubble”, my life was vastly different. Outings were mostly limited to doctors’ appointments and tests, to which John always drove and attended with me. Besides feeling exhausted, my immune system was extremely compromised by the chemo cocktail, which made being out in public an increased risk of getting exposed to all sorts of germs.
Once discharged from the hospital for the last time, so weak I could not walk without the assistance of a walker, I began physical therapy. Naturally, I had to be driven to these, even after I ditched the walker, still too unsteady to drive.
You Can Let Go Now
Wanting my independence back created an unexpected challenge between John and me. All throughout my illness and treatment, he was the caregiver and I relinquished my independence and most of the decision making to him. We had always been equal partners, but to beat cancer, I needed to live in my bubble to fight, heal and survive. When my strength and confidence finally were returning and I was ready to spread my wings and take flight from the nest, John still wanted to do everything for me. Though his help was coming from a place of love, I was ready to find myself again and be the new, independent me. Gradually, it began to get under my skin when he wouldn’t let go and it became irritating when he made a decision for me.
So, what did I do? Purposely choose the opposite thing he was going to choose for me. During the illness simple things like deciding our menu, picking clothes to wear, waiting on me and deciding what I should drink and eat for a snack...John did it all for me when I could not. Even though he was glad I was better I believe he was so used to me needing to lean on him so much that it was hard for him to let go. In some ways I felt guilty wanting my independence back. He had taken such unselfish loving care of me I didn’t want to hurt his feelings or make him think I didn’t love or need him anymore. I decided to be difficult. If he said carrots, I said peas or if he said black, I would say white. Even if I didn’t mean it, I would purposely say the opposite just to be my own person. I was tired of being hovered over, if I was out of the room too long, he would call for me to see if I was ok. Sometimes I purposely wouldn’t answer to see how long it would take for him to come and find me.
One day, I finally just had to tell him to let me do things myself. He got the message and slowly began to give me leeway, though he did need a few more reminders. Had I not spoken up; it may have caused our relationship to morph into one where we weren’t equal partners anymore which could lead to some potentially deep resentment down the road. Being up front and direct with each other has always been a foundation of our marriage and I know it is one reason our marriage has always been a strong one.
Chapter 8B: John
Not the Rock I Once Was
Letting go of control: She's Back!
Taking the Wheel
Juggling teaching, coaching and household duties around Sherri’s appointments, procedures and crises, I found myself also making all the major decisions and handling all household duties. Sherri got to the point where it didn’t matter, and she didn’t care about any of these decisions. So, after six full months of her feeling sick, being misdiagnosed, correctly diagnosed and accepting three doses of chemotherapy, pretty much everything in our lives was up to me now.
My problem is that once I grab hold of the wheel, I have a hard time letting go. My role as a leader includes being a protector. And in this place and time, I most definitely was in a position of control and protecting Sherri. As her caregiver, I was her rock and her protection.
“I CAN do this!” …Can you really?
After Sherri finally was able to come home, she was just a shadow of herself, missing the substance. Weak, decimated, distraught, she was unable to do a whole lot for herself beyond the basics of human necessity. She needed help with everything else. I made every effort to ensure her comfort and to make sure she was doing everything she was supposed to in her recovery. But then it happened one day. She wanted to test the waters and start doing some of the mundane household chores herself while I was at school. And then, the big one: now she wanted to drive. Shit! She isn’t ready for that is she? No way. Here is where I made another mistake.
Letting go was not going to be easy. Clearly, I was not ready to cut the cord. As she regained her strength and began to spread her wings, I was oblivious. Apprehension set in when discovering she did something herself, questioning not only if she was ok, but did she do it right or am I going to have to go back and redo it? That is the control freak in me. Her feelings had to be hurt, but I never noticed. As she was ready to fly, I was holding her back. When she drove herself to a PT appointment, even though I was glad she was going to do it, I was a nervous wreck. My instructions were for her to text me before she got in the car and when she arrived. When she called me after she got home with all the excitement of a kid whose team just won the championship, I must confess that though elated for her....a little bit of me was kind of hurting: she wouldn’t need me anymore.
I don’t know my role anymore…
In my defense, letting go was made more difficult by mixed messages from Sherri. While I finally accepted that she wanted independence, I started to back off. On one hand, though she was getting herself signed up for new activities and events, as the day approached to attend them, she expected me to go along or to act as chauffeur. She wanted me, in some cases, to do the activity with her to be there for moral support. Ultimately, I always went out of concern for her safety and well-being, and maybe too because I still wanted her to need me. But quickly it was quite unclear as to what my role was supposed to be. At home she wanted to take on more duties and wanted me to back off my mother hen-like behavior. Did she need me to be a” helicopter husband”? Or, would she rather fly solo?
Setting me straight…
Our relationship had become reminiscent of a yoyo. One minute she is tight in my hand wanting support and the next fully extended free to spin. Up and down we went playing this game of independence vs dependency. Finally, I think we both had had enough. I don’t recall the issue or the time, but Sherri put her foot down and yelled at me to stop telling her how to do everything and no more hovering! Honestly, that was liberating for both of us!
To revisit that time (and I have no desire to) and do it all again, communication should have been better. I would have sat down with Sherri and actually had a periodic talk with her about what she thought she was ready to do on her own vs. what she felt she needed me there for. Out of respect for her and who she was, I owed her that. Additionally, I could have helped her set small, manageable goals, of tasks and activities. A sense of purpose and targeted goals for independence would have really been a great idea and given us both the direction we needed to work through these times successfully. We needed to verbalize our expectations for ourselves and each other.