Whoever said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”, is a liar.
Words can be cutting, painful and once you put them out into the world, you can never take them back.
An apology may start to fade the imprint the words have left on someone’s heart, but the scar will always be there. There’s some saying about throwing a vase on the ground and then gluing it back together, the “I’m sorry” may be the glue but you can still see the cracks. (Or something like that– you get my point).
Whether you type, text, speak or sing the words— they matter.
You see once your words fall onto someone else’s ear, they are kept in a tiny box in the back of their memory. They can be pulled out and used against you when you think they’ve been lost. (I’m the queen of this- just ask Joe.) You can try and tuck the words you wish to forget into a bag and fill it with words you want to hold on to, but the words are still there and can haunt you.
Joe has a way with words, though he doesn’t like to use them as much as I do. He says I can talk about anything for hours, and he may be right. But he can tell a story that leaves my stomach hurting from laughter. He finds the words and comforts me when he’s the one who needs it. And if we are going to be painfully honest, he has quite a repertoire of words he uses to be a real jerk face.
I use that term with all the love any married woman probably understands.
What I never expected to need to understand was what he says when he’s sick, he doesn’t always mean. It’s hard knowing if the words spoken are coming from steroid laced chemotherapy. He gets easily irritated and short tempered. My mascara stained makeup wipes laying around the house can nearly put him over the edge. (It is kind of gross as I sit here and think about it.)
I wonder, ”Is this the hulk of cancer talking? Or the true thoughts of my husband? Does he throw the sharp words out because he knows I can handle them? Does the pain he feels just need to be released?’
I constantly struggle with letting it go because I know he doesn’t feel well, or telling him it’s no excuse and to pull it together.
The words I write in this blog help me release my own pain, fear, anger and hysterical feelings. They are forever on these “pages” and someday my daughter will be able to read for herself the trials of her little life. I’ve been amazed at the feedback, the stories from other cancer patients and wives, the prayers and support we receive just from sharing some words strung together with the commas my husband helps me with. (I have no idea where they go and I just kinda dash them in when I think they look pretty).
Some responses are powerful and make me feel like there is purpose in this journey we’ve been put on. Here’s one of my favorites:
“I just have to post. I’m Heather, living with stage 4 breast cancer. I’ve had two recurrences since the initial diagnosis in May 2008. The most recent was last month–breast cancer spread to my lung. I have four daughters, ages 14 to 8. I am not terrified of dying; I am terrified of leaving my girls.
I am surrounded by an unbelievable tribe who cook for me, who come to help me clean and repaint my bedroom after my divorce became final. They love me fiercely and pray for me ceaselessly. But all the casseroles in the world can’t keep me alive. You’ve written so beautifully about this, Joe. This dual-living–one foot in life, the other in death, not wanting to succumb to its inevitability, whether it be now due to cancer or whether we defy odds and die of old age.”
I don’t know this woman, but her words made me feel connected, purpose-driven and fulfilled. I’ve received hundreds of letters like this and ONE with some not-so-nice words. One vs. hundreds; yet it still stings every time I think of those few lines sent to me. Here it is:
“That was so horribly written I could not get through the story. What a shame you butchered this man’s story. I would be so embarrassed if I were you. The internet really is not picky to allow such garbage writing. Shameful.”
I cried when I read it.
I thought Joe was going to kill someone. I forwarded the messages on to my good friend and blog mentor who quickly turned the negative words into a badge of honor, “Congratulations,” she said, “You are now officially a blogger. Your first hate mail.”
I don’t know why a few hurtful words knock us down when we are surrounded by so much positivity. It must be human nature to be surrounded by friends at a party, but notice that one person who didn’t show up. It’s a weird truth we have to learn to ignore.
90% of the time Joe is my funny, sarcastic, sassy husband. So why is that 10% so hard? It’s a side of cancer people don’t talk or warn you about.
As I listen to Mira and Joe babble back and forth downstairs, I am so happy to fill our little girl’s ears with words of love. When we hear parents yelling at their kids (always at Disney-HA), we want to stop and tell them to slow down, soak it in. I’m sure there will be days when we want to scream and pull our hair out as most parents do, but we know that this is a moment you will never get back. We hold on to Mira tight because we risk losing so much. Even after we are gone, our words are what she’ll have.
In the cards Joe writes, in his voice when she watches videos of them playing, and in these blogs. I hope we leave an imprint on her heart she’ll never want to wipe away. I think it’s what all parents want for their child. To give them the words to write their own story.