“What do we tell the children?”
That was our first thought. “How do we tell the children?” was our second thought. In the end, “what” or “how” somehow tripped over the issue of just saying anything.
Children hear everything and your best effort to plan, when, where, and how can be imploded by one phone call where the word “cancer” is heard through four walls.
You then see the intricate details of your children’s personalities. One child gets quiet, then asks detailed questions before returning to a text chat with friends. One child has a brief, near-catatonic moment before grabbing his imaginary gun and points it at your breast to “shoot out that cancer”.
The first thing we learned was that none of the pamphlets on “Talking to Your Child About Cancer” or “Honey, Mommy Has Cancer” were prefaced with, “You won’t have time to read this before they know you have cancer”.
The second thing we learned was that children don’t want change. The more normal things stay, the more they seem to tolerate little changes.
Parents are stressed because the results of the CT scan are due? Complain that there isn’t any milk or cereal. Your mother is passed out of the floor after having diarrhea, ask where the remote to the television is. When eating in front of the television for weeks on end and your dad is now head chef, maid, and concierge, complain when your recovered mom wants you to eat at the dinner table again.
Spring trips weren’t cancelled, arguments weren’t quelled, nagging continued, some rules were relaxed, some weren’t, visitors were frequent and not so frequent, silence may have been more common than usual, lunches were less interesting, and scotch bottles filled the recycling bin more than usual.
Through it all, being present and listening and acknowledging that life had shifted, but not changed, seems to have walked our children through this episode.