73: A Family Survival Story

73: A Family Survival Story

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Random Acts of Kindness

A Family Survival Story

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.

~Lao Tzu

My husband and I were fighting too frequently. I was almost always short of breath. I checked the description of panic disorder and panic attacks on WebMD. My self-diagnosis was questionable, maybe these symptoms just boiled down to lack of sleep. Meanwhile, my husband was becoming more and more forgetful. Bills past due, dentist appointments missed, anniversaries and birthdays unnoticed.

Because our three-year old daughter had been diagnosed with cancer.

It was the unthinkable. We had sailed through three pregnancies in under four years, and we had been gaining momentum as a young family of five. Our routines were firmly established, we had schools figured out in the complicated urban jungle of New York City, and we were accumulating meaningful family bonding that we had imagined before children.

We didn’t realize how carefree our life was… how simple… how luxuriously healthy.

One warm September evening we were thrown overnight into a brutal hospital stay that lasted more than a month. We found ourselves alternating between grueling days and nights at our daughter’s bedside as she endured a merciless regimen of chemo, with time back home with her two brothers, who could not comprehend why our family was suddenly so fragmented. We tried our best to navigate the uncharted seas ahead and not completely rock our children’s previously secure worlds.

We became accustomed to witnessing our daughter’s pain, to the rigid vinyl hospital chair serving as a bed, to delivering seemingly endless amounts of oral medication on an hourly basis, to administering shots, to falling asleep on command, to waking abruptly to weeping.

Ultimately we logged over 100 overnight stays on the stiff convertible chair that served as the caregiver’s accommodation next to our daughter’s hospital bed. And between two healthy children, one ill child, a brand new full-time job (oh, life’s timing!), and a tenuous freelance job, we were spread so severely thin, that the bond that still tethered my husband and me was nearly sheer. We had become no more than grim soldiers occasionally passing each other by with tense faces and terse words that exchanged some small bit of information about one of the children.

When we finally came up for air, in the midst of our daughter’s two-year treatment — one that thankfully was expected to lead to her full remission from cancer — I realized that the cracks in our marriage needed serious patching.

That is when I pledged the following five random acts of kindness to my partner, who had certainly been the person most relied upon during the cancer diagnosis, but perhaps also the one most neglected.

I decided not to openly tell my husband that he would be the recipient of these kind acts. And while it took some time to gain momentum, the positive outcomes resulting from offering random acts to a member of my own family was remarkable. Every day for one month I offered him one of the following:

My Full Attention: Days passed by when I never paused to look into my partner’s beautiful blue eyes. We were going through such a profound event in our family. Yet there were very few moments of reflection when we gave each other our full attention or even had a full conversation. When I started to really look and listen again, the connection began to return and we had more sincere moments together. It was nourishing.

My Thanks: My husband deserved to be thanked for all the tasks he performed on a daily basis for our family. And so I began to express gratitude for all of the very smallest tasks my husband wordlessly finished as well as the biggest ones. I decided to thank him silently instead of out loud. Doing this helped me notice how many things he did automatically and how often he contributed selflessly. It deepened my appreciation to thank him for all of his efforts. It magnified my gratefulness.

Not Engaging: As the stress continued to multiply, criticism and small arguments were common. The warmth between us was cooling. I decided to take things less personally and I decided not to engage. It takes two to bicker. Instead, I actively listened. Gradually we were on the same side again. Our home was more peaceful and it certainly helped our children’s spirits to see us united and communicating well again.

Vacation (from the daily routine): While a real vacation was impossible at the time, given the daily hospital schedule and potential threat of germs to my daughter’s unstable immune system, I realized I could easily give my husband time off from the daily monotony. One morning I offered him a vacation from household duties and caring for the children. I left him alone to rest in bed and took on all of the morning duties, which we typically divided. I offered the option of breakfast in bed or breakfast to go. I put out the garbage. This loving care offered a much needed mental vacation and was rejuvenating to him.

Physical Connection: I took my husband’s hand and held it as we walked into the hospital one day. What a difference it made. We had not been physically close since the diagnosis. I was exhausted; he was exhausted. But the simple act of holding hands was so reassuring. I committed to a good old-fashioned foot rub later that evening. And as we began to reconnect on a physical level, my husband’s outlook seemed improved. We also felt emotionally closer. I realized we didn’t need to have long, deep discussions. Just being present and holding his hand gave him much needed emotional support.

It was difficult at first, but I made this silent commitment and as the month went on, it became easier, because these acts of kindness toward my husband worked. They had a steady, positive impact on our family. They not only strengthened our bond as parents but also gave our children their security back and showed them concrete examples of love and devotion.

Through my deliberate acts of kindness, my husband and I and our family emerged stronger, more vividly alive, electric. And then we began to pass along sparks of inspiration to the others around us.

~Sky Khan

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