I graduated from college in the summer of 1995, moved home and found a job. Five months later, my mother was diagnosed with kidney failure. The next month, my mother's mother (who moved in with us when I was 8) fell and broke her shoulder. A few months after that, my father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.
I was 22 and scared out of my mind. My parents were older when I was born (my mom 37, my dad 60), and growing up, I was always afraid they would die. Now my worst fears seemed to be coming true, and there was nothing I could do except watch it happen.
I don't remember much about that time. I know that I was highly functional; I drove my parents and grandmother to doctor appointments and cancer treatments or kept up our huge house and yard during the day, and I worked second shift. I had friends, but I didn't feel like I could talk to anyone about fear of my parents dying. Or about how it feels to watch someone you love suffer from cancer. Or about the realities of being a caretaker.
With the clarity of twenty intervening years, I'm sure there were people who would have listened. There might have been people who tried. The real issue was that I couldn't talk about it without crying, and at that point, I tried my damnedest to not cry in front of anyone. (Funny how important that seemed.) I believed I needed to be able to take care of myself, by myself, and that isolated me more.
Scared. Overwhelmed. Isolated. (Depressed? I can't remember if these were the few years I was off anti-depressants.) Going through the motions but not processing my thoughts or feelings.
Now I think it's time to do that processing. Twenty years is a long time to have buried this. I don't know if I'm ready (I don't feel ready, but I don't think I ever feel ready to tackle something big) — but I do know that I have strength and knowledge gained from years of therapy and intense energy work. If that's not enough to get me through, my husband will share his strength.
So in this darkest time of the year, I'm going within to face my fears and my darkest pain. I'm going to spend time with my 22-year-old self. I can be the listener she didn't have, the person to whom she can say anything. I can be the one she doesn't have to be strong for. I can be the person who's not afraid to cry with her. (Okay, that last one is a lie. Crying with people makes me really uncomfortable. But fear and discomfort won't stop me.) Let's begin.