In part I of my musings on Expectations, I laid out the definitions and some of the context of approaching expectations in a variety of ways. In this post, I want to look at the more personal examples and explore how that’s been an issue that I’ve grappled with in my own life, before and after my MBC diagnosis.
Remember those books on love languages? I don’t know if the science holds up under scrutiny, but it was a big deal back when I got married. Both personality and love language testing was part of the pre-marital classes Elliot and I took, so it was a big topic of discussion. Regardless of whether the categories are true or make sense overall, I’ve found in my own life that I feel the most loved when someone sees a need in my life and fulfills it without being asked — that was labeled “Acts of Service” in the love language parlance. Honestly, I’m not sure that’s unique or even just one of many — I think at a basic level, each of us wants to be loved in such a way that we don’t have to ask for our needs to be met.
Someone responded recently on a post on Facebook that I can’t find now that allyship, the act of being an ally to someone different from yourself, is a form of a love language. I’d never connected the two before and it resonated with me so much. Some of the dearest friends I have made in this new experience of living with terminal cancer are those who aren’t in that boat with me, those who do the work and take the time to understand, to support me, and to support all of my crazy schemes and endeavors. Doing that, especially when cancer isn’t a personal experience, really does communicate love.
I’m also reminded of the movie Avatar, which came out quite a while ago. In that movie, one of the greetings that made a big impact on me was when one person or Avatar (I can’t remember what they were called) took another’s head into their palms and said “I see you.” I think that’s another basic need, to be seen for who we are, faults and all, and yet the other person continues to hold our gaze unflinchingly. The idea that we could drop our mask, drop any posturing, and just be with another human being is intoxicating and I think a lot of people chase that ideal their whole lives, with a variety of results.
It’s been a few years since I had the time or ability, but some of the happiest moments in my life were when I made unique gifts for my family. I don’t make the gifts so much anymore; at the same time, I spend lots and lots of time throughout the year searching for the perfect gifts for birthdays, for Christmas, for just because. It is extremely satisfying to me when I can find the perfect item and surprise someone else. I don’t always hit the mark each time, but more often than not, I think.
Prior to breast cancer, and one of the reasons I think the transition has been so difficult for me, I was nearly always in the role of the caretaker. I was the strong one. I was the one setting up meal trains and ensuring that people in crisis had solutions. It’s what I did for a living, it’s what I did for my volunteer work, and it has defined my life in so many ways. I’m sure part of that is the fact that I am the eldest of six (6) children and was raised in a culture where independence and resourcefulness was prized and it was expected that those who needed help were helped by those who could.
When I found myself in a situation where I could no longer apply the hard won coping mechanisms I’d learned and applied for my entire life, I literally was left with a situation where I had very little frame of reference. My cultural norms did not serve me well in this transition because I was far more likely to hide my pain, to say I’m fine, and not give anyone else the opportunity to help. My mother, though, a breast cancer survivor and consummate nurturer, saw through that. She knew what I would need and jumped into action. Not to say that my father wasn’t part of that, he lived without my mom for months without complaint as she cared me through surgeries and treatment and the devastation of my terminal diagnosis.
When I take two steps back, I know that another’s response to my pain or illness is about them, not about me. This is easy to acknowledge intellectually. Privately and emotionally, it’s just much harder. Part of my personality as well is that I rarely say I will do something when I don’t have any intention on following through.
I came across this meme recently …
Based on my own experiences and the experiences I’ve heard from others, this vast difference between what people say and what they actually do is pretty widespread, maybe even universal. I think it is a cultural norm to say “let me know what I can do to help” without a clear vision of what that looks like. When the person who needs help musters up the courage and vulnerability to ask for help and there are crickets, it only teaches the person who needs help not to ask or to respond angrily or nastily when someone doesn’t follow through.
I’m working hard to review and revise my expectations of others, to give grace when people show me who they are and what they can do, and to ask for help of the people who want to help. This is hard for me. So excruciatingly hard. All I ask of those around me is to tell me the truth, to communicate what is real and what is possible, and to understand that I don’t ask for help easily or lightly. When I finally ask, I’m in a pretty dire situation.