I get hit by great gusts of anger from my wife. These days, It seems that the best I can hope for is a forced smile and an artificial "good morning." It's all down hill from there. Intellectually, I get it. Cancer sucks. Cancer hurts. It makes her angry. But cancer is not around to shoulder the blame in person. I am.
In the abstract, this transference of grief and anger to the closest person sounds manageable. Too bad I don't live in the abstract. Where I live, the love of my life lashes out at me--at my motivations, my actions, my commitment. My being is under attack from the most important other being in the world. This is not a role playing game where I stand in for Sucky Cancer and she takes pot shots at me. This is real. My defenses kick in. I strike back, making it worse. In the heat of the moment, I let my anger at Sucky Cancer focus on my wife.
Unless I can remember my mantra: "Not me. Not her."
These storms aren't her attacking me, they're not-her attacking not-me. Have I done anything that would merit this scale of attack? Not-me. Has she ever shown such venom towards me during all the ups and downs of our 30-year relationship? Not-her.
I'm not a dualist. I believe that the collection of organic chemicals opposite me is indeed my wife, but cancer, stress, drugs, and gamma knife are having their wicked ways with her. Although she desperately wants to be "normal," she is not 100% her old self. Who would be? It's relatively easy for me to conclude that she is "not-her."
It's a bit harder to remember and convince myself that the person under attack is "not-me." I search myself for faults that would justify my ending up estranged. I am not perfect. Presumably, Sucky Cancer is taking a toll on my personality, too. I am sure I have voiced painful, hurtful things that I would take back. I'm doing my best, but I'm human. Over the years, though, I've come to recognize in my life that some problems I'm involved in are intractable, and that's not my fault. Not me.
So when I feel myself under attack, like this morning when I learned that she will "never show me what's behind the mask," and "only ask you to do things when there are no other options," I work hard to remember:
"Not her, not me." Cold comfort is better than none.