This has truly been a bizarre summer. At the beginning of the summer, things were going really well. For the first time, we were starting to feel like a “real family.” All of the kids seemed to have adjusted to me and Justin. It was pretty clear that they no longer felt the struggle of loyalty binds and that they did not feel that loving and accepting me was a threat to their mother. We went entire weeks without anyone in tears. I remember briefly having the sense that we had done it. We had survived some very bumpy times, but we had come out the other side.
Then their mom was handed the diagnosis – stage four cancer.
Suddenly, everything changed. It is no one’s fault – not mine, not my husband’s, not the kid’s fault and certainly not their mom’s fault, but the dynamics are suddenly very different. Their mom is now in the middle of seven weeks of treatment. Doctors have told her that if the treatment does not work, she has less than a year. If the treatment does work, she may have five or six years, but at this point they are working to buy her time not a cure.
The kids are understandably confused and scared and sad. They are spending portions of “our days” with their mom going to her treatments. Friends have gifted her and them weekends away and dinners out. It is fine, no, make that good, that they are able to do these things with her and together, but it seems to reopen the gap and be a reminder that we are two families.
Just days before the diagnosis, my oldest daughter said, “you know I don’t even think of Justin as my step brother anymore. He is just one of us. now, I just tell people he is my brother.” My heart soared.
But a few weeks later things look very different. Justin cannot possibly experience their mom’s cancer in the same way that they do. He is not a part of the weekends away or the special dinners or the trip to treatments, and though I know he feels sorry for his siblings and what they are going through, he does not have the same type of fear or sadness as they do.
As for me and their dad, we cannot experience the same things or the same feelings either. Our hearts break for them but we really are on the outside looking in. Whereas at the beginning of the summer I had the sense that they could love me without feeling like it was a threat to their mom, I now feel quite the opposite. I get the sense that they wonder how all of this might be very different if their mom and dad were still together and she had a spouse by her side for the treatment. I get the sense that where they once thought how lucky they were to have both mom and dad and Debbie, they now think it is possible they will lose their mom and be stuck with dad and Debbie.
So, it has been a rough summer – for all of us – but in very different ways, and though I can feel them pulling away and the transition from one family back to two, I just have to be patient and make sure the kids know that their dad and I (and Justin) are all here for them and we will do our best to be supportive and constant as they maneuver the next few months or years and whatever the future brings.