The Fallible Caregiver #2: Sick of Feeling Afraid (Part 1)
Growing up, I lived with little to no fear. I was the happy-go-lucky kid, well-loved, and well-taken care of. I did not really feel intense throat gripping fear until I went through my divorce and lost everything. Like a crumbling building, I saw and felt every piece of my life falling apart and falling away. Hard as I tried, I couldn’t stop the ruin. That’s when fear—real fear—moved into my heart, and like the stray cat you fed once, fear is always there now banging on my door.
The fear journey
This will be a three-part series on experiencing fear as a caregiver. In part one, I will share my personal fears. Part two will explore the guilt feelings that caregivers often feel for having their own desires, feelings, wants, and needs. And in part three, I will offer some practical tips I use to combat fear and learn to act bravely.
Facing a new kind of fear
By the time Rebekah (the new good wife) and I married, I had learned how to keep fear at a safe distance. I had grown and matured through the brokenness. But when my new wife was re-diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, fear kicked in my door and moved back in and the bastard brought his brother, terror.
Rebekah's fears as a young woman with MBC
We were both terrified, of course, but much of our personal fears sprung from different locations. Rebekah’s fears were largely relational. She feared leaving me, leaving her family, and leaving the chance to make a family with me. A huge part of what makes Rebekah’s fear so strong is that she’s on the younger side of this disease. Re-diagnosed at 26; she just turned 34 this December. It’s not like she got the diagnosis toward the end of life as my dad did. My dad had a lot more peace in it because as he told me, “I lived a good life and I have no regrets.” Not that being older makes it an easy road. My dad still had many planned years in his mind, but it is different. Rebekah never even had the chance to have a child, which is probably the deepest pain she feels. Cancer took that from her.
My fears were both relational and existential. I will now speak of these fears in the present tense because while I felt them strongest in that first year of her diagnosis, I still feel them daily today.
I’m terrified of the fear she feels
From the relational root, I fear for her. Of course, I fear losing her to cancer, but I also fear the fear she feels. Read that again. As a man, I’m terrified of the fear she feels in facing this. Just last night, we were in bed watching one of our shows. Her eyes were watering. I knew. I took her hand and asked, “What’s getting you?” Then I shut up. I let her take her time and work out the words. After a silent minute of struggle, she explained her fear of her upcoming brain radiation. “What if there are other ones they can’t see? What if this chemo stops working? I am almost out of options.” Cold reality lay in bed with us at that moment. Fear and his bastard brother sat on our side tables.
That type of deep fear terrifies me. A large part of it is because it renders me so helpless, so weak, so inept to fix it. Yesterday, I fixed her mother’s vacuum and a leaky faucet. I always fix broken things. I said to Rebekah and her mom, “Just call me the fixer.” But I can’t fix f#@%ing cancer. I can’t fix my sweet wife’s dread.
I’m afraid I won’t be enough
From the existential root, I fear for myself. I’m afraid I won’t be enough, that I’ll prove inadequate, that I’m not man enough to handle this. Fear and terror love to remind me of all my failings in the past and they love showing me projections of the future: more failure, loss, and ruin.
I may be over-generalizing here, but I think most men come with a limited toolbox in dealing with such intense emotions, especially from our women whom we love. We very easily and very quickly feel overwhelmed and in a sort of “game” for which we are woefully ill-equipped. That terrifies us.
I fear what is out of my control
I also live with daily financial fears. What if the insurance won’t cover something she needs? What if we fall into a quicksand of debt? What if we can’t pay our bills? What if… I have a creative visionary mind and I’m super skilled at seeing deleterious futures for myself often ending with me living on the streets because I’m not man enough to hold all this together. No joke.
I'm afraid of being alone
Finally, I just fear being alone—again. As the Bible says, it is not good for man to be alone. I need Rebekah. I don’t do well without her. On a very basic and practical level, I’m afraid of being alone. My wife motivates and helps me to be a better man. In biblical language, she helps sanctify me. What will I become left to my own devices?
I know much of this can sound selfish and little. I know. I feel that too. Who am I to complain about anything? I’m not the one with a terminal cancer diagnosis. Geez, you’re acting like a selfish little baby in light of what she’s facing. Get over yourself. While there is some definite truth to those thoughts, there are also some harmful lies that just don’t comport with reality. In part two of this article on fear, I’ll talk about this seeming selfishness and then I will offer some practical tips I’ve learned for fighting fear and becoming brave.
Read the first post in the Fallible Caregiver series.
Have you had a mastectomy done?