Tomorrow, December 7, is my birthday. However, I will not be with my family and friends. Rather, I will be surrounded with love, pain, joy, sadness, hope and courage. I will spend my birthday with the brave men and women at Castlewood Treatment Center in St. Louis, Missouri. I truly cannot think of anywhere else I would rather be.
Growing up, I often heard my family and friends say, “Oh, McCall, stop being so sensitive”. I tried my best to not ‘be sensitive’ and to ‘toughen up’, but no matter how hard I tried, I still hurt. I was (and am) a sensitive being. Nothing was ever going to change that. And I hurt alone and in silence for many, many years.
I now consider my sensitivity my greatest gift. It is something I hold sacred. I honor my sensitive heart, taking care of it and loving it as it beats through every human emotion. Recovery has taught me to follow my heart, allowing it to feel, give and receive. Because of my soft heart, I am able to sit with others. I can literally feel their pain, hurt and loneliness. And above all else, I can let them know they are not alone.
To be perfectly honest, my heart has been really heavy lately. Personal changes are happening, but moreover, I have carried so much hurt in my heart as of late.
After returning home from Thanksgiving, I saw the devastating news that a fellow Wolfson Hospital cancer warrior lost her battle. I never met Kate, but she was just doors down from Marjorie during the summer of 2015. Her death hit me hard. I followed her story and there was no doubt she was a light to everyone who met her.
Last Tuesday, Kate’s mother, Lisa, posted a beautiful picture. Tears poured down my face as I saw the picture of Lisa cuddling her baby in the final hours of her life here on earth. I don’t know the pain of losing a child, but I have cradled my own child while covering her in desperate prayers for healing. I could feel the pain, love and unbreakable bond between a mother and her daughter through my computer screen. My heart carried her hurt.
Days later I received an email from a young woman questioning if life and the fight for recovery were worth it. We’ve connected on the phone many times since her initial email. I do my best to remind her that there IS still light and hope and that the fight is TOTALLY worth every battle scar…but I also know how painful those dark moments are. I know how exhausting the fight is and that giving up often seems like a better option. I told her I would sit with her in the pain. I carried her hurt.
On a daily basis, I hear from aching parents, lonely teens and adults drowning in shame. I sit with them, hurt with them and pray for them each night. I am very aware I can’t save anyone, we all have to save ourselves. But that doesn’t mean we have to walk the journey alone.
This life is filled with so much sadness and pain AND there is also SO much good. ‘Life is freaking brutiful’ as my friend (who hasn’t met me yet), Glennon Doyle Melton would say. Sometimes the sadness is filled with happiness and vice versa. It took me a long time to absorb that concept – joy during times of sorrow. Nothing confirmed the joy and sorrow theory like Marjorie’s NICU and cancer battle.
Watching my child fight for her life, not once, but twice, made realize that life is hard AND that there can be so much joy during these times, as well. The friends, family, doctors, nurses, prayer warriors and fellow cancer families that God put in our lives during these dark times, were our joy, our inspiration and our hope. They made us laugh and sat with us as we cried. They carried our hurt, while we watched with aching hearts as our precious baby fought for her life.
In my short six years of recovery (and life), I have been blessed with so many people who have carried my hurt. So for me, carrying other’s hurt and sitting with others in the darkness is such a gift. It is an honor for me to crawl back into the dark with those struggling and say, “There’s nothing I can say that will fix this, but I’ll hang with you here as long as you need me.”
Sure, sadness is not fun. Many reading this will probably wonder why don’t I guard my heart better. That’s just not who I am. God made us to feel, to love, to hurt and, most of all, to LIVE. Embracing sadness and sitting in pain is me living out God’s purpose. There’s no doubt my passion stems from years of my own pain and hopelessness. Nothing brings me more contentment than helping others through their dark times – sitting with them and connecting them with professional help.
And I do guard my heart in many ways. If I allowed myself to follow every pediatric cancer or eating disorder story, I would basically live in fetal position in my closet. I am selective and I practice A LOT of self care. I shut down, I write, I absorb the joy that radiates from my two tiny humans and I call my therapist (obvi). My life since recovery has been learning to walk the beautifully imperfect balance of self care and helping others.
So while I carry a lot of hurt in my heart, I also carry so much joy, love and light. My birthday wish is to sit with you, wherever you are. I spent so many birthdays feeling alone and hopeless, I don’t want you to do the same.
I hear you. I honor your pain. I sit in it with you. Thank you for giving me the best birthday gift and allowing me to share in your darkness.
And to sweet Kate, may your light and love live on through each of us. You were truly your own light during many dark days. We will always “remember to smile” for you.