We all fight the undertow

I sat on the beach with the wind whipping my hair into me eyes. The waves were much bigger than they should’ve been and I should’ve been keeping a closer eye on the children in the water. I just couldn’t bring myself to watch them. Instead, I was watching the family next to us. They were laughing and drinking and their daughter was building a sand castle.
I didn’t mean to begrudge their happiness but I couldn’t help but be jealous – resentful even. My mind was swirling with the news we had received just hours before that my husband’s cancer had spread. He would have to undergo a year of chemo- that he had a 60-70% survival rate for the next 10 years.
I stared at them- so carefree- as they chatted and laughed. I looked at my own children and wondered what it would be like to raise them without a father. Could I do it on my own? Was I strong enough?
All I wanted to do was crawl inside my bed- or inside a bottle- to make it all go away. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to be anywhere.
I noticed the man watching my son with a strange intensity. He was probably judging me for not engaging more with them I was sure of it. I just couldn’t bring myself to play with them, to swim with them, to laugh with them. I was lost inside myself.
I began to get angry that he kept staring. When I had finally had enough I began angrily packing the beach bag. “Ten more minutes” I yelled over the sound of the crashing waves. They began resisting (as all children do) and I got angrier and angrier. My voice took on a hard slicing edge. “Ten more minutes and that’s final,” I yelled.
The man got up from his chair and came toward me. I braced myself for what was to come. Surely he was going to berate me for my poor parenting, my disengagement, my tone. I bristled when he came right up to me.
“I’m sorry I’ve been staring at your son,” he began somewhat awkwardly. “You see, he reminds me so much of my boy. They must be about the same age. He’s 4 right?”
I nodded hesitantly unsure of where this was going.
“My son drowned 3 weeks ago in a freak accident at the neighborhood pool. Our friends brought us to the beach to try and take our minds off of it. But I can’t stop looking at your son.”
And right there my heart bottomed out.
“My wife hasn’t left the house since it happened,” he said. “I was so grateful she agreed to come down here. Our daughter needed this.”
We talked for over an hour about his ordeal, my ordeal, the accident, and the diagnosis.
You see, everyone has their cross to bear. Their thing. We cannot (although we do) make a judgement about someone based on a snapshot. As I sat resenting their happiness- they sat mourning mine.
I haven’t thought about him or his family in almost 10 months as I crawled back inside myself to endure our own struggles. But tonight, for no apparent reason at all, as I watched my son happily playing in the bathtub, I remembered him. And now I can’t get him off my mind.
It’s weird to think “We are so lucky it was just cancer” but that’s the reality of it. I still have my children and my husband. Yes, we went through hell but we came out on the other side intact. Whereas he…..I don’t know how you come back from the death of a child. I know it’s possible. I have friends that have done it.
My point is that no matter what you see on the surface strong waters run deep. We are all fighting against the undertow. Even when you can’t see it. If we could all take a moment to step outside of ourselves and be just a little more human, the world would be a much different place.

11 thoughts on “We all fight the undertow

  1. I am so happy to read this piece. My daughter has a terminal illness and many days I feel sorry for myself, then am reminded that someone always has it worse.

  2. You are such a strong inspiration, going through struggles we are not facing…I know you have as GOD as the Father who continues to keeps you above the “undertow”——and GODLY parents for support also—-Thank you for sharing ————-will keep praying———

  3. I was encouraged to visit and read this from The Plagued Parent blog. At first I let her little nudge go, but something said ‘click the link’ so I did. Thank you for sharing your heart and your experience. I too get angry looking at others seemingly ‘perfect’ lives. We only see a snapshot, we don’t see the whole picture as you so vividly described. It’s like scrolling through Instagram and believing all those perfectly planned scenes are reality. Some of those moments took hours to prepare.

  4. Your insight and candor is touching. Thank you for sharing such a personal story. It’s true you can never tell what a person is going through by looking at them. So many judge without thinking or considering what a person might be going through. I pray to be more thoughtful, more thankful and never to judge others.

  5. Your essays are always so meaningful and touching, and of course this one is terribly poignant for me. As you say we all have our cross to bear. I am reminded of the story of Aunt Sue. You most likely have heard this one before. Aunt Sue was around 107 years old, going blind and deaf. Sally tells Aunt Sue how sorry she is for all that she is experiencing. I love what Aunt Sue told her, “Yes, my child, that is my cross to bear and I will carry it and not drag it behind me.”

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