THE BLOG

Giving Your Family Permission To Celebrate When You Are Ill

13/12/2016 12:46

When I became very ill for the first time, many people around me started walking on eggshells especially around the festive season. Clearly, they did not know what to do for the best.

Some years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. It was in May. By December the chemotherapy (not the cancer) had left me too ill to visit family for Christmas, which is our tradition. I was too weak and frail to do very much at all. My parents were too old to visit me.

I did not mind. I was too unwell and tired to make a drama out of it. But for others the situation had turned into an issue of personal conflict, loyalty and social etiquette.

While initially no one talked about it, I knew something was up. Eventually, after some probing and encouragement, my parents and others opened up.

Was it ok to celebrate Christmas? Was it ok to visit others? Was it ok to put up the old Christmas tree in its usual place?

They were worried what it might be like for me, if they did. They were worried I might think they did not care. They were worried that I might think their lives had not been affected, too.

They were struggling with how to cope and live with the knowledge that their child might die before them, and that all their hopes and dreams about their life in old age had been shattered.

They needed my permission and blessing and support to hold on to some kind of structure, routing, normality. I knew that and my heart went out to them.

And then there is the issue of social etiquette, conforming to social expectations. Depending on where you live this can be strongly felt, or not. And I think that also played a part in the uncertainty and needing my blessing ... "Karin said it would be ok...." I do not blame or feel offended. I understand.

Clearly, December, Christmas, New Year, life (theirs and mine) would never be the same again.

The diagnosis, illness and treatment had been like a massive earthquake, destroying everything. How was I going to rebuild? Was there time to rebuild? My life has been shortened. While the diagnosis was not terminal, predictions vary. So much uncertainty.

With all that going on, and radiotherapy just starting, I felt overwhelmed by others' struggle to do 'the right thing' by me, by themselves and by others. I understood it, but I was also saddened by it and angry.

I did not want Christmas to be another thing to be affected and destroyed by my change in fortune.

Everything had been thrown into question, and to have some continuity of tradition was strangely reassuring. Even though I do not decorate my own home much at all, it did matter that my parents' home would be as it has always been.

I did not want to have to emotionally rescue others when I was struggling to rescue myself. My energy was and remains limited.

I was angry to be put into this situation, because it felt like others were weak, when really I needed them to be strong and take charge. This might be unkind, but that is what I felt then.

did give permission and honest encouragement to 'celebrate' as much or as little as they saw fit. It mattered to me, that unlike concentric circles, my illness did not push away everything.

For now, life continues with me. At some point, life will continue without me. I do not want or need drama.

For now, I want and need normality that works for me, even and perhaps especially during the festive season.

(Originally Published by The Mighty.)

Karin Sieger is a psychotherapist and writer. You can catch up with her on her blog Between Self And Doubt. For more information visit KarinSieger.com

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