I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have the best relationship with my step-monster.
Um, I mean step-mother.
We are very different women who have been sharing a singular important man in our lives for over 15 years now.
I hate living the stereotypical step-daughter/step-mother dynamic. But for us it’s been mostly drama, especially when I was younger.
As much as I love women and cherish the special relationships we can create together, my stepmother and I have never jived that way.
As a teenager, I always wondered, “Why did my dad pick this woman?”
But Wait A Minute
Just recently, I got a call that jolted me out of my typical attitude on the subject. My dad sounded unusually straightforward on the phone; I knew something must be wrong.
“Your stepmother has breast cancer. She has to have a double mastectomy immediately.”
Nobody really sees news like this coming, I suppose. I was shocked. She’s only 44!
I had so many questions. How’d it progress so quickly? Had it spread? Was she going to be okay? Were they going to tell my little 7-year-old brother?
I purposefully practiced patience for my dad’s sake. I asked him how he was doing and how my stepmother was holding up with the news, figuring he’d share the rest of that information when he was ready.
He quickly became less articulate and for a man who doesn’t show an abundance of emotion, he seemed incredibly sad.
In the next couple of days, they visited more doctors than the average family does in a year, but few details were clear about her condition.
Yet somehow, their attitudes began to shift.
My stepmother, in particular, was being remarkably brave and both of them used humor to keep from getting too down. At first, the saying around the house was “No need to worry – only the good die young!” Another was “can’t kill bad grass” and my stepmother laughed along.
I Get it Now – Thanks Grandma
Just a few months before this news, the grandmother I am closest to died from cancer. Over the course of my lifetime, she’d been plagued with it.
Having survived the first five cancers (!) we were lucky to have her as long as we did.
When she was 40 and first diagnosed with breast cancer, it was bad enough that the doctors at the Mayo Clinic had written off any chance of her survival. But she was a subtly stubborn woman and it paid off. That, and she never let her health problems take away her sense of humor.
Even in hospice her silly antics were cracking us up. Whenever we got too solemn in our goodbyes, she’d say something totally off the wall and hilarious. The staff there told us they’d never seen such a lively bunch of visitors.
It was my grandmother doing what she did best – making us all as comfortable as possible – right up to the end of her life.
My family lovingly ushering my grandmother into her transition helped me remember the importance of navigating the prickly relationships in our lives – as challenging as that can be.
But fresh off the memories of my beloved grandmother I watched my stepmother take a difficult situation in stride, and with courage and a sense of humor, reminded me of her good qualities.
And that holding on to negative feelings about someone isn’t a good use of my energy.
Ooh, Did I Just Step Up (No smart remarks!) to Become a Better Person?
These jolting life experiences, as hard as they can be, are opportunities for real growth. For one, they are good reminders of what’s important.
The challenges we’ve had over the years now seem less important. I am hopeful that our relationship will be more harmonious now that we’ve had the opportunity to put things into perspective.
Importantly, I’ve learned to respect a relationship that I don’t really understand. As many times as I’ve wondered how their relationship works, I’ve seen love and support between my dad and stepmother during her sickness that makes my questions moot. And that makes me happy for them.
I know now that I can really care for a person who I don’t always get along with.
I learned that part of loving my dad is supporting him even when he doesn’t ask for it.
Most importantly, I was reminded that life throws us surprises and that we have a choice.