On that fateful, shit sandwich of a day, toward the end of the appointment, I asked Dr. D if it was time for us to tell our families and friends Chip had cancer or if we should wait until the biopsy was performed, the pathology report was back and we knew specifics. She confirmed it was time for us to tell – with the warning that everyone’s gut instinct was going to be to jump in the car or hop on an airplane to come be with us, but she encouraged us to gently bar the door. To take some time for ourselves to digest the news and focus on this precious and remaining time together as a family of three, because once Chip started treatment and the baby was born, our house would become a revolving door of casseroles and visitors. She was not wrong.
Dr. D also told us we were going to need help. And LOTS of it. I even remember her mentioning this helping hands website we could use to help organize meals, rides, blah, blah, blah, but I kindly dismissed it, because I wasn’t going to need any help. I have it together. I am the most organized woman on the planet, and I am a bit particular…well, downright anal…when it comes to running my household.
Once word of Chip’s diagnosis began to spread, Chip and I started getting inundated, in the best way possible, with texts, calls, and e-mails to our work accounts, personal accounts, and Facebook inboxes from people wanting to know if they could bring us dinner, keep Joe, drive one of us to our respective doctors’ appointments, rake our yard, clean our bathrooms, donate, fundraise, keep us company, leave us alone, literally ANYthing to help us. It was all so overwhelming. Again, in the best possible way.
I remember lying down that Sunday afternoon to try to rest for a bit when Lady Linda and Joe Boyd called to check on me. I told Mom and Dad our heads were just spinning from the outpouring of love and support we were already receiving, and I didn’t know how I was possibly going to respond to everyone with thanks and let them know all we really needed were their prayers. But they both stopped me right there and told me we were going to HAVE to let people help us. It probably sounded a bit more like, “Now Sheila Kaye, you just gon’ have to let people help y’all, baby.”
Now come again? My whole life I had been taught it is better to give than to receive, but now I am supposed to receive?? Besides, people like us don’t need help. Those other people are the ones who need help. I questioned my parents sudden change of heart on this subject. Mom told me it IS better to give, but somebody has to be the recipient, and right now, it was our time to receive and, one day, we would be in a position to give again.
Then she told me something that really stuck with me. People genuinely wanted to help us and by being willing to receive, I was actually giving BACK to those who love us. I was letting them into our lives and allowing them to be a part of our journey. That it would actually make people feel better to get in their kitchens and cook dinner for us. Huh. I swear my parents were dumb as bricks when I was 16, but somewhere in the past 20+ years, they seemed to have gotten their shit together, because she made a solid point. Feeling my own body’s physical and mental heaviness as our new reality slowly sunk in, I finally caved.
Just like that, we had officially become THOSE people. Deep breath. I, Sheila Boyd Kennett, needed help. Deep breath. I could not do it alone. Deep, deep breath.
It was actually liberating to make the admission and shed my Super Woman cape.
Our dear friends Ginny and Clete Johnson, along with Smitty, thankfully declared themselves in charge of organizing the troops. Chip and I both began to feed Ginny the names and e-mail addresses of all those we had heard from, while Clete and Smitty tried to identify all of the different pockets of people in our lives and roll them into one. Ginny built a ginormous spreadsheet, and the five of us sat for hours around the dining room table the following weekend and had a family meeting of sorts – properly identifying who were college friends, high school friends, family members, Senate Moms, colleagues, who lived in state, out of state, who could drive, keep Joe, be a key holder, you name it. And that was the start of Team Kennett, each of you rolled into this huge network of support for us, which has become one of our greatest assets in this fight.
On the surface, you have provided us with meals, veggie deliveries, a night nurse, rides, an inspection of the air quality in our home, funds, and professional expertise regarding nutrition, taxes, and employee and insurance benefits. In addition to all of those wonderful things, you have provided us with the gift of more free time to spend together as a family and focus our energies elsewhere, healthy nourishment for our bodies, healing sleep at night, peace of mind, freedom from financial stress, the gift of your time, with hope, encouragement and so, so much love.
I have never really questioned the “why me” in all of this, and I am not trying to come across as a martyr by saying that. I question why Chip and why our kids but not why me; however, I do question what I am supposed to do with this. What my purpose in all of this is. What I am supposed to learn. What I am supposed to teach others. Where this is going to lead me. I try so hard to keep my mind and heart open to these new lessons and recognize any small grace extended to us. Trust me, I would much rather be reading one of Dr. Gail Saltz’ books or something, but that clearly wasn’t God’s plan for me.
I would like to say I have fully learned this particular lesson in receiving, but the truth is, I still struggle with it. There are many days I feel such guilt, because all of you have lives, jobs, and your own families to take care of – yet you are taking care of mine. I feel guilty I haven’t always been at home to see you and say thanks in person. I feel guilty I am so behind in writing thank you notes. I don’t know if it’s so much the act of actually receiving that is so difficult or if it’s the mere fact we have the need to receive that is so difficult, but it’s just hard. As Chip has said, you never really want to have to read your own name on the prayer list in the church bulletin or on a rubber bracelet around your wrist, but we are so grateful people care enough to place us there.
At the risk of sounding like Toby Keith, Chip and I remain in shock and awe at everyone’s relentless kindness and generosity toward us. It has truly been the sweet spot in this whole ordeal for us. We have eaten our slice of humble pie and gratefully receive from each of you. (But we can’t wait to give again.)