Around Christmas of 1996, I was at my biological mother’s home when I received the devastating news that my aunt had finally succumbed to a rare throat esophageal cancer and died. This had been her second battle with the vicious and merciless cancer. We all knew it was coming, but even when it finally came, we were not ready. Nothing can ever really prepare you for death. Especially when you are not even a teenager yet or, at bare minimum, just beginning your teenage years.
For the second battle of cancer, my aunt lived with us. She was a math whiz and sat with me for hours trying to patiently explain numbers and formulas to me. I sat by her side reading to her or watching TV with her labored breath I saw what cancer did. I saw what cancer did to her. I saw what death looked like.
But, I also saw the rarity and beauty of what love looked like. And, yes, it is really so beautiful.
My father said that this aunt had always seemed to have a difficult and atypical life. She had been in an almost deadly car accident in her 20’s, causing her to be in a coma for several weeks or even months. She married late in life. She never had children. When she finally did marry, it was most happily to a round-faced and jovial man who would light up when she was in the room. It was soon after that they married that she was diagnosed with this rare form of cancer. Her husband was right by her side through all the vicious chemotherapy and radiation treatments that caused her to lose her hair, her weight, her saliva, and, eventually, her life. He was patient, kind, devoted, loyal, and loving. In turn, my aunt fought for life and living. There was a fire in her eyes. There was a fight in her spirit. She knew what I knew that life was the greatest gift. She also knew what I knew at a young age that we fight so hard for life/to live and quietly endured pain and suffering to lessen the burden to our loved ones while somehow feeling inadequate, never enough, and that we are ‘damaged goods.’
But here’s the thing: We are all damaged goods. We all have our stuff. We all have our baggage. We all have crosses to bear. We all have our dirty secrets and dark sides. We never really know someone and how they are feeling or what they are struggling with or what they may be going through. Growing up and particularly in the my 20’s and early 30’s, the feeling that I was ‘damaged goods’ was somehow more pronounced and weighed on me to the point of me actually pushing away any guy who would get close to me because of this intense feeling that I was too damaged because of all of my ongoing health issues and that he would never understand. I would share my insecurities with my Dad: “I do not know what anyone sees in me.” My ever wise, patient, and loving father said to me, “You have a lot to offer. You bring so much to the table. You never know how people see or perceive you, and you are just your own worst enemy and critic.”
Lately, I find myself thinking about my aunt who passed on after her very painful bout with cancer and her devoted husband. I think I have been thinking about them because of another friend who recently died after her ongoing struggles with cystic fibrosis; She has left behind her daughter and husband. I think that life is full of challenges that damage and hurt us beyond measure and that we are not meant to endure alone, but meant to share together with the people or a special person who can lift you up when life lets you down. We are not islands and are meant to connect and share. When I shared with one of my good friends my recent thoughts on my aunt and this other friend who recently died of cystic fibrosis, my friend said to me, “If I knew that the person I had fallen in love with or loved had less time on this earth and had some chronic health problems, I would stay by that person. I rather a short time with someone I love and care about then a long time with someone I am miserable with.”
Our worth and perceptions of ourselves can be very different compared to the perceptions that others have of us. Would you be with someone knowing that you would not have much time with them or that the time would be challenging and painful, yet that time with them was all the worthwhile? In essence, quality versus quantity? What is your threshold of ‘stuff’ that another has or carries? Have you ever felt like ‘damaged goods’ and not ‘worthy’ of love? How do you see yourself and how you have been damaged or hurt? What is your worth?
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,