The Hardest Thing

On January 30th, 2012 I did the hardest thing I have ever had to do as a mom: I held my screaming seven year son down in order to have his blood drawn. I listened to him beg through his tears “I don’t want it to happen”. At the time I silent cried and powered through while thinking that it was such a waste of effort. I almost called the whole thing off. After all, he was just a little bit sick… two weeks of being worn out, with an ear ache and swollen lymph nodes. It’s just mono. Is it worth traumatizing my son for a blood draw over mono?

On January 31st, 2012 at 8:30am I took the hardest phone call I have ever had as a mom: the pediatrician telling me I needed to take my son to Children’s Hospital immediately because it was clear from the bloodwork that he had leukemia.

What followed was a month of hard things. A month of coaching, cajoling, crying, fearing, praying. Watching toxic chemicals being injected into my sons precious body by a nurse in a hazmat suit. Catching vomit in a basin while I held his head and tried to keep him calm. Screaming at the top of my lungs in my car in the garage so that no one would hear me. Learning the complicated day by day chemotherapy plan and making decisions about research studies.

So many hard things.

And yet in the eight months that have now passed I am thankful for the hardest thing I have not had to do. I have not had to say goodbye to my son and that is the best thing.

So let’s talk about coming to terms with The Hardest Things. I don’t know about you but it’s easy for me to wallow in memories sometimes. Like melty-mascara-puddle-of-ugly-crying-tears wallow. But I don’t want to live in that place and I certainly don’t want to live my life from that place. So how to we move past sticky memories of The Hardest Things and find true freedom? Here is one technique I use regularly.

  1. Spend some time really come to terms with it. I’ll be honest, this is probably going to involve a lot of crying. If your Hardest Thing creeps up on you and then you shut down those emotions repeatedly, you are only deferring the emotion for later. Instead of waiting for it to pop into your mind (why this always happens to me in the car, I’ll never know) I want you to choose a time to confront it. Maybe that is right now, maybe you need to pick a date and write it on the calendar.
  2. Get writing. I want you to to sit down with some paper and a good pen and I want you to pour whatever comes to mind about your Hardest Thing on the paper. No punctuation, no grammar checks, no spelling corrections. Write as fast as you possibly can. You are not writing a story to be saved for posterity, you are dumping your brain on a page. You may spend lines and lines repeating yourself just to relieve the emotion. I once wrote “I hate this. I hate this. I hate this.” for half a page.
  3. Write emotionally. The facts are going to be part of this exercise. Get what happened out on the page but also focus on how it made you feel. Write what people said and then what you thought about it. Write things that invoke the senses. Write about touch, taste, sound, smell. Anything that is a trigger for the memory should flow onto the page. Do not censor yourself! The point is to release what is bottled up inside you. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t quite make sense or doesn’t look nice. In fact it should probably look ugly, almost illegible.
  4. Decide what to do with it. Once you are done you can decide what to do with the pages you wrote. Some people fold them up and put them away to be read years later. Some people burn them. For me, once I write it I’m done with it. I don’t reread what I wrote. Ever. I keep it but only because it’s in my journaling book.

Do I still think of my Hardest Things? Yes. Frequently. But it is typically in a simple, remembrance type of way instead of a funky, wallowing type of way. I can think about them and not have a panic attack. I can think about them and still feel hope & joy. For me, this writing technique has become a vital part of my self care. I hope that it’s helpful for you too.

About Emily

Hi, my name is Emily. I’m a wife, mother, christian, momcologist, doula, writer, nerd, entrepreneur and dreamer. I like Apple products, chocolate, books, lists, being pregnant and the color purple. I fancy myself as a quirky combination of dreamy Anne Shirley and feisty Scarlett O’Hara but in a schizophrenic sort of way. Read on...

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