Last year I met a woman whose husband was dying of cancer. Hospice had been called in. Her husband only had months left.
She told me how hard it was to watch someone die. I nodded in agreement.
It is hard.
She said that her husband’s pain was so bad, she didn’t want him to suffer anymore. She didn’t want him to die either, but she didn’t want him to live like this.
I nodded again.
“My husband had cancer too.”
Then I tell her the whole thing: How we really didn’t know if Sam would live or die. What it’s like to be a caregiver for someone with a serious illness. After going through cancer, we adopted a child with a genetic disease who would not live past his third birthday.
We talk about how hard it is to watch someone suffer, to grieve while the person is still alive.
“I can’t believe you’ve been through some of the same things I have,” she says.
Though we have never met before, there is an unspoken understanding: We are both part of the “club” that no one wants to join.
I never knew about the club before we went through Sam’s illness, but after he was diagnosed, people who were survivors would approach us and say, “I went through cancer too.”
It was like a secret handshake. It opened the door to deeper conversations.
That’s the thing about these clubs. Once you’re “in,” you always know your people.
They are the ones nodding yes when the rest of the world looks at you confused. They are the ones holding your hand when everyone else goes on with their lives.
When we talked to them about chemotherapy, they nodded and told us how horrible it was. When we discussed our fear behind doctor’s appointments, they said things like, “I still feel afraid when I go in for my cancer checkup.”
I learned that this club wasn’t just for those going through cancer. It was for everyone going through something hard or life-changing—the things that label us and define us and ultimately make us who we are.
When my son was diagnosed with Leigh’s Disease, I discovered we were part of a new club, “The Sick Kids Club.” I met other parents who worried about their child’s health, whose calendars were full of doctor appointments and who haggled with insurance companies over medical bills.
We lamented being part of this club. But we also knew that we had each other. We were not alone. God gave us someone else on this journey so we would not be afraid. Someone who understood my pain.
When my son died, we joined the “Parents Who Lost a Child Club.” We met other grieving parents who struggled with depression and guilt, who stumbled through each birthday and holiday, who learned how to find a new normal through their grief.
Though we wish we weren’t part of the club, we knew the connections sustained us through the worst of times.
These people become our cheerleaders, our advocates, our shoulders to cry on.
Because even though joining the club was the worst thing that happened to us, it was also the most life-changing.
Our shared pain opened doors to new relationships.
Our suffering gave us empathy. Made us less judgmental. More understanding.
Through our club we realized: This group is an unexpected gift in our time of need.
Some of my readers are here because you are part of the club too. Though I can’t make it better, I want to tell you this:
I’m sorry you are in the club. I wish you didn’t have to be here. I wish I wasn’t in the club either. But if we’re going to go through this, then I’m glad for one thing–that we’re doing this together.
We are not alone. We can do hard things. Let’s turn our grief to good. Let’s help each other. Let’s make this our common goal: We will not let anybody walk this road alone.
I don’t lament being part of the club anymore. These are my people—the ones who know how hard and crazy this beautiful life can be.
We walk this road together. We live these holy moments.