When my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer last year, it was the first time in my life that I faced the fear of losing her. Rather I didn’t face it. I rarely spoke of my mom’s cancer, or all of the appointments I’d join her for, and tests leading up to surgery. There were people in my life that didn’t even know she was sick. On some level, my denial was so thick that it was like sometimes I didn’t either. I certainly wasn’t dealing with it the way I had with my dad. I dismissed the disconnection I feeling, telling myself that in her case there was a chance at a cure. A hope we’d not gotten with my dad. At the same time as all of this was going on, we found out my father-in-law needed quadruple bypass. I joined him for visits and tests too. Something I also didn’t really talk about. In conversation with a friend, I said I felt as though I was on auto-pilot. I couldn’t understand how with my dad there had been so many tears when he was diagnosed, and so much fear, yet with my mom there had been none. I wondered why? I felt so unlike myself. But as I went on about my wonderings, I started to cry… like really cry, like choke on my words cry. She listened, I talked, and when I’d let it all out, she gently offered this, « Shan it’s not that you aren’t afraid…. It’s that the fear is too hot to touch. It’s white-hot. ». She was right, and as soon as her words hit my ears they unleashed another realization : She could die. I could lose the woman who had been my unwavering, constant support. The person who seemed to understand me even when I could not. How blessed am I to know a bond so deep, and how very scary to think of losing it. A possibility not lost on my mother, because she could hear what was unspoken between us. She once said, « I need to know that whatever happens, you will be ok ». I lied. I reassured her, even though deep down I knew there was no way I’d be ok. In fact I was pretty sure that I would never be ok again. Yet I pushed on. I did life. I took care of my kids, made some pretty huge life decisions about work, showed up for those who needed me, went to appointments, and just avoided touching the white-hot truth for fear that it would incinerate me. I held it together through my father-law’s surgery and recovery. My husband and I spent our days at the hospital while he was in intensive care. Somehow being there for them soothed my other looming fears. I felt like I was doing something rather than just worrying. Maybe it offered me a temporary hall pass from the fear I had yet to face. I knew my mother’s surgery was just weeks away, and soon I could avoid it no more. The day of her surgery was the most scared I have ever been. Surgery went on longer than expected. Fear loomed larger as the minutes ticked by. I knew the risks. I’d sat through every meeting listening to the doctor list them off. When the surgical nurse finally called my cell phone to let us know that surgery was done, and that she was in recovery, I fell to knees, « She’s ok! She’s ok! I was so scared!», I sobbed. I spent that night sleeping on a cot in my mom’s room. Everyone said I should go home, but I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. She had never let me down. Never not been there for me. I had promised my father before he died that she would never be alone, and this was a promise I intended to keep. As the fear made its way out of my body like an electric shock, the peace felt in those first few days after surgery was like a heavy blanket settling my frenzied internal state. But I still wasn’t “ok”. I felt off. I told myself I should be happy, but soon found myself secretly crying every day. Questioning everything. Wondering what I would do now that I left my job. Feeling enormous pressure to make things happen. Worrying about everything in my life and feeling completely disconnected. I shut down. There were days in the month after mom’s surgery where I felt like I was losing my mind. I would think the scariest thoughts. Like now that we’d made it out of the fear I could dive deep into the dark. I imagined turning my life inside out. Something kept pulling at me to lean in hard to the parts of my life that had too once been white-hot truths. The fear of losing my mom seemed to activate all of my other fears. This was not the first time I had kept it all inside. This was not the first time I had locked away all of the pain in a box to which I held the key. This was also not the first time that I hit a wall as a result of trying to outrun the outrunable. Don’t complain. Don’t feel. Don’t be afraid. None of the things I told myself made me feel any better. It was deadening to tell myself not to feel what I was already feeling. Like I was leaving myself behind because I had told myself that somehow my feelings were inconvenient, and that feeling them was wrong. This broke my heart, and after it broke my heart, like any good break-up, it pissed me off. I was enraged. Initially directed at my circumstances, my relationships, and at pretty much anything outside of myself, soon I realized that I was most mad at ME. I had locked myself up. Throughout my life. Again and again. I didn’t let myself feel the feelings that were already there. I didn’t face my white-hot truths. Until one night I lay crying quietly in my room. It was dark, and the kids had been in bed for over an hour. I thought they were asleep, until Maya tiptoed into my room. She could not see that I was crying and I doubted that she’d heard me. She told me she’d been about to fall asleep when something inside of her told her to come and see me. To tell me that she would love me no matter what. Her message so serious, yet she did not seem upset or concerned. She’d shared like this with me before, and talked of getting messages that she knew she needed to deliver. I have known for some time that she feels things on a plane beyond even my own. I hugged her tight, and thanked her for her words. I told her, « Mama has been sad Maya. Maybe you noticed that, but I am very strong, and I will be ok. You don’t need to worry about me my love». As though I was stating the obvious, she said with calm conviction, “Oh mama, you are the strongest person I know. Something told me you needed to hear what I said, so I said it”. And there it was… a truth far greater than my fear. A reminder that I could feel what I needed to feel. I could say what needed saying. I could even turn my life inside out if that’s what I needed to do. A reminder that I would be ok no matter what. I realized in that moment that the white-hot truth could not burn me, but rather turns to ash with my touch. Lean in hard when it hurts. Feel everything you need to feel. Say it when it needs to be said. Only then will you realize you are fireproof.


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5 responses to “Fireproof

  1. Shannon, this is so beautiful. You were strong for all of us; burying your fears during a scary time saved us all. I’m sorry but this is true, and I know that it took its toll on you. Thank you for your strength. I love you and I love this pic of you and mom xx


  2. Mathew Philip

    Your life gives strength to others. I have also gone through the same situation in my life


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