Monday, October 11, 2010

My Middle Place

I’ve been reading this book called “The Middle Place” by Kelly Corrigan. It’s a memoir about her fight against breast cancer while her own father (an amazing “character”) battles his own bladder cancer.

I love this book. It’s been sad, of course, but funny and very real.

Kelly describes “the middle place” as a “sliver of time when childhood and parenthood overlap….The middle place is also hallmarked by endless, irresistible, often exasperating comparisons between your family of origin and the family you’ve made.”

I totally get that. It makes me think of the many times, even before my husband died, that when something good or bad happened, I couldn’t wait to tell my husband (that’s the adult in me…she’s still in there somewhere), but I also couldn’t wait to tell my parents (that’s the kid part of me that will never go away). It’s what made our first few years of marriage so difficult while we both argued our points about how the way we were each brought up was the better way…until we figured out that blending the two would be the best way. It’s that kind of grey area between adulthood and childhood that a lot of us fluctuate between, no matter how old we are.

I realize that my upbringing was not like everyone else’s. We had our share of fights, but for the most part, my family was incredibly close. They were always my safe port in the storm. The place I could go to and hear commiserating words of anger on my behalf, or laughter at the ridiculousness of life. And of course, they were the first people to drop everything and be at my side at the hospital when my life had gone so quickly and inexplicably wrong.

I’ll never forget sitting on the floor of the hospital waiting room in ICU (that we had somehow commandeered and had all to ourselves) because sitting on a chair was just too precarious. Every time I “perched” I thought that surely gravity would take over and slam me to the floor. So I decided to outsmart it and just stay down there.

Anyway, somehow, in all of the comings and goings of everyone I knew, it ended up being just the 4 of us sitting in that room. I’ll never forget looking up and seeing the pale concern, which was all directed at me, and a doctor coming in to tell me that my husband’s brain was swelling and I only had one option. And that was to remove part of his skull to let the brain swell.

Of course, anyone’s immediate reaction would be to do it. I mean, if this is possibly the difference between him making it and not…it’s a no-brainer, right (no pun intended)? But I looked over at my favorite nurse and I said, “What does this mean?”

And she quietly said, “Honey…if you do this he will never know you. He will never know your children. He will never be able to feed himself.”

I knew that was not something my husband would want me to do. But when you’ve been awake for days and you’re faced with a life-changing decision, it can cloud your judgment, to say the least. At that moment, I was tired of making the decisions. I was tired of the doctors looking to me, asking me to be the final signature. I was ready to leave the whole damn mess. And I looked at my family and longed for someone to just take care of this. Take care of me.

They stared at me until I looked up and said, “I don’t think we should do this. Do you think we should do this?”

Notice the word “we.”

And collectively they said, “No, we shouldn’t.”

I will always remember that moment. The moment when they didn’t just pass the buck and say, “This is your decision” which would have been the easier thing for them to do. How they didn’t just stand behind me, they stood with me. How they would have supported me either way I went, but when asked, they took the responsibility with me.

There has never been a moment in my life when I felt more like we were in this together. And never a moment that I needed to feel more “together” with someone else.

Since then, I (of course) have had those times when I feel utterly alone. I know that they will never know what I’ve gone through, what I continue to go through, just as I will never really know about the defining moments that have impacted them, in their own way. The things we call “character builders” because the phrase “shit storm” doesn’t sound as eloquent.

But there’s a part of me that thinks I will always be in this “middle place.” And that’s not so bad…especially now that I’m doing this on my own. There are times when I feel strong and ready to take on the world. And there are moments when all I want to do is run to my family and just ask them to make it all better.

And, together, we will do both.


  1. Oy. Mine was the same. Except my husb. was 76....are we better off? Rhetorical question (but I think yes).
    You're the best.

  2. D and I talked about a possible heart attack and what he wanted in such an event. He did NOT want medical intervention, by-pass surgery etc. I'm glad I never had to make the decision for him, that it was totally out of my hands, that I was totally removed, that it was instantaneous ... because I wouldn't have had the family support. I'm glad they were there for you and I totally believe you/they made the right decision, hard as it was.

    I don't feel strong enough to take on the world yet but some days are quite passable.