When I graduated high school and moved out on my own I remember one of my favourite things was decorating my dorm room, later my little bachelorette apartment, then basement apartment, townhouse and later homes.
Somewhere along the way I acquired a small nic nac. It was from the “country style” of decorating … you know … the kind that is made of wood and tole painted with those muted dark colours. It was three hearts that were stacked on top of each other in a pyramid style fashion. One heart said Hope. One said Love. And one said Faith. Although my tastes changed over the years, this little wooden nic nac followed me around from home to home. I don’t know why really. I don’t remember anyone in particular giving it to me so it didn’t hold any sentimental value. But there it was. In Halifax, in Guelph, in Riverview and back in the Valley.
Somewhere along the way the Hope and Love stayed glued together. But the Faith came unglued and dropped off. I would constantly set it back on top but something would inevitably happen and I would find it upside down hiding behind the other two.
I swear this story is true. And boy what a metaphor this turned out to be in my life!
Faith … in both a traditional and non traditional sense just never came easily or natural to me. It just didn’t. I struggled greatly with it. There would be times in my life that that would bother me, and there would be times in my life that I worked relatively hard at making that better for myself. There were moments when I actively pursued a greater sense of faith and felt like I was succeeding and growing. But somehow more often than not it still felt forced to me. There were times that building my faith seemed like something that a needed to go on a to-do list. “Find Stronger Faith. Yup. Must get that one checked off the list”. But mostly I came to a comfortable acceptance that faith was not a prominent part of my life. (Insert the shock and gasps here)
I guess maybe this all seems pretty normal for many people. Questions of faith are big questions.
But fast forward to having a child diagnosed with a life threatening disease … a severe, rare, life threatening disease, where the odds are not in your favour, and all of a sudden the whole faith thing … or lack there of it … seems pretty significant, and pretty damn scary.
So many people would tell me, “You have to have faith that everything will work out”. Oh my. That is such a wrong thing to tell this Momma. Number one, I’m pretty sure Timmy’s* Mom (our roommate at the IWK) had faith in spades …. but I still went to his funeral … and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because she didn’t have enough faith. Number two, don’t tell me I “have” to have anything. (I know some of you reading this hear nothing but anger in that statement. But I also know some of you reading it instead hear in it ‘the experience of being given much unsolicited advice over a very long journey’).
So here is what I realized on my journey as a mom of a child with a very lengthy life threatening illness. I actually didn’t have to have faith. And it’s not because I didn’t think faith was important. And it’s not because I didn’t want to. I did in fact think it was important and I did in fact want to.
But I actually didn’t have to have faith because of two things:
(1) I had a tonne of other things in spades. I had the courage and the fortitude and the love and the gumption and the heart and the tenacity and the humour and the spirit and the confidence. I had all of that. I was brimming with all of “that” through this whole journey. I excelled at all of that. In a time of our lives where many would feel buried by the burden, I found myself able to bring all of “these” necessary qualities to the table. For me. For my son. For my family.
So here’s the thing, I allowed myself to not have the faith. And then I told myself that was ok. And do you know why? It’s because of the second reason.
(2) It’s because I allowed two other people to have it for me. It was just too much for me to carry. Like I said, it did not come naturally and it felt to forced for me. So I let someone else carry it for me. I was lucky enough in my life to have a Mother and a Best Friend for whom faith comes, and always has come, very naturally. So I let them carry that. I let them worry about that little faith heart that came unglued, and I let them worry about making sure that that piece of the puzzle was taken care of. Because I was already carrying everything else. I was holding everything else together and I needed help.
I remember when I came to this realization. It was scary at first. Not holding or trying for faith, and instead letting it go. Would I be judged for that? Would I be judged by others or even worse would I be judged by a higher power? And worse of all, would there be life altering repercussions for that? But that fear didn’t last long. Right wrong or indifferent it didn’t last long. Because I remember the most overwhelming feeling was how “right” and “ok” it felt to hand this important piece over to them.
Mother of children with childhood cancer don’t hand things over very well. We have a need to swoop in and give our children everything. But there I was … handing over this most important piece to two of the most important people in my life. And it felt so right. It lightened my load, and allowed me to be the person I needed to be with confidence and optimism, not someone who was constantly questioning if I had enough faith for me and for my family. It was the right decision for me and it felt real and true.
It would be my greatest hope that anyone who may be reading this and who is going through any kind of challenge in their life, that you give yourself permission to let go of something that is too big for you to carry. Give yourself permission to hand that over to someone else. Someone you love and who you trust. Someone who truly has your back and who loves you unconditionally. It will allow you to be the person you need to be on your journey. You can always pick it back up. You can always try to carry it at a later date.
I know that is hard. I got very lucky with my Mom and Best Friend. They picked up and carried that for me without ever consciously knowing it. They did it without judgement or conditions, and also without ever once trying to make me be someone I wasn’t. And that’s a tough thing to do when we are talking about faith.
I never really came out and told my Mom and Best Friend any of this. But their faith, and my confidence in it, was one of the greatest gifts I ever received. I whispered thank you for this gift so often, and still continue to be thankful for what they were able to do for me.
So somehow in my mind, when my son had cancer, I wasn’t transformed and I didn’t have some kind spiritual or religious epiphany. I know that’s difficult for some people to hear and even more difficult for some people to understand. But before diagnosis is pretty much the same place that I am now after diagnosis. On the flip side though I am not any more jaded, which I kind of think is a miracle honestly after seeing and experiencing the things I have on that floor of the hospital … but nor am I any closer to feeling like my faith or spirituality are any stronger than when we began.
So here I am … 20 plus years after I received those little tole painted hearts, and I still have that nic nac hanging around. And that third Faith heart still has not been glued back on. Instead I chose to let someone else hold it for a little while and care for it. Maybe someday I will nurture that small heart, but only if and when it feels right to me.
But I didn’t throw it away either … and I think that’s not so bad.