KEEPING THE SHIP AFLOAT: Lessons Learned by Carol
Photography by Fran Collin
You learn so much about your friends. Some say things like, "You know we'd do anything to help, just call us." But neither Ken nor I like to ask for help; it's too humbling. Other people are great, like the friend who called me to say she had Thursday off "so tell Ken he has a driver that day."
The people who understand are the ones who have gone through something like this themselves. My sister-in-law's first husband died when she was only 24, so she really got what I was feeling. I could say to her, "Please be with me" or "I need to be alone," like the day of the surgery when I wanted to be by myself.
You have to find a support system. My sister's been part of mine since the beginning. When Caitlin's fifth-grade class had a skiing trip and I couldn't go with her, my sister went in my place, even though it meant missing her own daughter's holiday party.
I think the fac that we tried to keep things as normal as possible for the kids helped them, though I don't know what price Ken and I paid from this, because it's exhausting to have to push down your own fears and emotions. My sister-in-law advised me not to let anyone know about Ken's illness because it would get back to the kids, but you have to have people to talk to. Trying to keep things from the kids felt like having two different worlds. Lately, I've sort of relaxed. Both Ken and I talk to them more openly about how bad the prognosis was.
I've changed a lot, like having more fierceness about my priorities, because I don't know how much time we'll have as a family. I've had to let myself separate from Ken a little, to think how would I handle this or that if he died. So I've become more independent.
I recommend keeping a journal. I've been making notes throughout this experience, starting with that first day at the Mayo Clinic. Now, even Ken's therapist is needling him to write about it, too. It's very therapeutic.