I was a very independent single woman for years before marrying my husband. I thought I could do it all and by myself.
But everything changed after my husband’s cancer diagnosis and the depression that came with it. As I’ve written previously, my response was to manage our family and household myself—essentially leaving him out of the equation. This was not the healthiest approach to maintaining some sense of normalcy when everything seemed so wrong, but it was all I knew to do.
At the time I didn’t question my method, because for a short time it seemed to work. I could manage the grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, child rearing, and finances. Slipping back into the role of sole decision maker came easily.
Before too long the effects of trying to carry the weight of our world on my shoulders wore me down. Bills were missed, thousands of miles passed between oil changes, and our grass grew higher and higher. I couldn’t do it all, at least not well.
We outsourced mowing our overgrown lawn to friends and neighbors willing to pitch in. I started swapping childcare with a friend once a week, to allow myself some uninterrupted kid-free time to focus on our finances and stay on top of our bills.
To my surprise, I found that the help offered by our friends did not feel like a threat to my hard-earned independence. It felt like a lifeboat. Our family was drowning, and we needed help from others to catch our breath. I realized that one person can’t do it all, and that life is much sweeter when we let others into our messes to help us ride out the storm together.
I also realized that some things just weren’t going to happen during this difficult time in our lives. If you had asked me before my husband’s illness about our packed schedule, I would have said there is nothing we could cut out. In hindsight I know that’s not true. Certain things that I had thought were essential suddenly weren’t. Things like big house projects, story time at the library, and freelance jobs. And you know what? The world didn’t stop spinning.
As my husband regained his physical and emotional health, we added things back into our lives with more scrutiny than we had before. Relationships trumped ‘To Do’ lists and events on our calendars. We prioritized time together as a family. Date nights became a weekly occurrence. I quit my part-time job to be fully present with our kids during the day. Now our days are simpler and we are slower to make commitments that could take away from family time.
Coming face-to-face with death will force you to reevaluate what really matters. We count that lesson an unexpected blessing. Since my husband’s recovery, there have been and will be difficult times. The lesson of false autonomy has kept me from trying to bear the weight of the world on my shoulders again. I’ve learned I can’t do it all, and I don’t have to.