Diary of a Marriage: Dealing With Sick Parents—Together

When bad news strikes, J. shuts down and I open up (and Google obsessively). So, when faced with scary stuff, how’s this communication thing supposed to work again?


When it rains it pours, they say.

But first, the skies cleared a bit. There was the news, of course, and then, the treatment for J.’s mom’s breast cancer: six weeks of radiation. Her skin didn’t even crack during it, she said. She was one of the lucky ones. She became friends with all the other cancer patients. She showed them our wedding pictures and brought them copies of Philly Mag and Philly Wedding so that they could read the stories J. and I wrote. There’s a bond between cancer patients, she explained. You’re all weathering the same storm.

And then, like I said, the storm cleared. Treatment was successful; she was nearing remission. Then the trickling began again: a doctor’s appointment, an MRI and, last Friday, the news that the cancer may have metastasized to her eye.

Umbrellas out.

When I finally saw J. Friday evening, he hadn’t talked to his parents. He didn’t know anything, didn’t want to call them; wanted me to explain to him what was going on. So I did, as he launched into a flurry of activity—unpacking his tennis bag, poking around the refrigerator, rifling through the mail. He didn’t meet my eye as I tried to explain to him what she’d explained to me.

“I’m probably leaving stuff out, babes,” I said as gently as I could. “I think you should call her.” But he wouldn’t. It was late, she was probably in bed, she most likely needed time, he didn’t want to bring it up. I didn’t want to push him.

I spent the night doing what I always do when there’s some sort of medical emergency: I Googled. I read articles on everything from eye cancer to thyroid eye disease. J. asked me not to tell him what I found, so I didn’t. A lot of those things are worst-case scenarios anyway.

When faced with bad/scary/sad news, J. and I handle things very differently. He buries it; I announce it over a loudspeaker. I cope by sharing my worries with others. Maybe in a way it’s selfish, lightening my load by piling it on others, but somewhere deep down, I guess it’s a weird logic: The more people I tell, the less likely it is that something bad will happen.


“Want to talk about it?”

“Nothing really to talk about yet.”

This is the exchange J. and I have had about 20 times since Friday. We still haven’t really talked about his mom. It’s this big nebulous thing that won’t really be anything until her biopsy on Monday. And because when it rains it pours, my dad’s leukemia check-in is next Friday. His blood counts haven’t been great, so there’s a pretty good chance we’ll get the news that he has to undergo chemo this spring. This is something I talk about, usually with lots of hypotheticals. And when I run out of words, I Google it. This is how it will go until next Friday. J., though, will be steady and quiet. One week, two huge answers, two radically different ways of dealing with them. Sometimes I want to shake him: This is happening whether we talk about it or not. But he listens when I talk about my dad, so I guess I have to listen when he’s quiet about his mom.

In any case, he knows that when he wants to talk, I’m here, just as I know that he’ll be there when I want to rattle off my plans for how we’ll deal with the thousand different possible outcomes of next week. And then of course there’s the language we both speak, even when we’re not saying anything: Cancer sucks. Sometimes that’s all there is left to say.

Do you and your groom handle tough things differently? How do you manage to handle it together, in those cases?


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