Cancer Journey

When All You Have is a Hammer…

Appreciate the little things, for one day you may look back and find they were the big things.

Robert Brault

I don’t really need this door, I thought. The kids often play the computer in this room and it would make sense for the door to simply not exist to allow for proper parental supervision. Later, if I decided that I do need a door I could just buy a new one. Yeah! No big deal. Just buy a new door. Aaron and I had discussed updating the house and new doors for all the bedrooms would be nice. Doors can’t be that expensive. Right?

I had just gotten  home from work and I was already frustrated from a difficult day of dealing with my constant grief and 150 emotional middle school students. Somehow, the door to our office got locked and it was a room that we used daily. I had convinced myself breaking down the door with a rubber mallet was a good idea. It also seemed to me to be my only option. HELLO, our computer was in there! How would we go on without it!? Of course, I had explored other options of opening the locked door before finally deciding breaking through it was the best choice. I’m not completely crazy. I first attempted to pick the lock with a bobby pin. I had no such luck. My cousin, MaKenna, happened to be with me and also attempted to pick the lock. We also tried using random skinny objects that we thought would work like a lock pick. (To this day there is still a broken twig stuck inside the door knob somewhere. Why we thought that would work, I don’t know.) We had no luck in our lock picking attempts and decided to give up on our future careers as smooth criminals. We agreed that picking the lock was not going to open the door anytime soon and time was of the essence. Why? I don’t know. It’s not like opening the door right then was a life or death situation. But as time continued to roll on and the door remained unopened, I became more and more anxious. Would I ever enter that room again? This was rapidly becoming more than a “We need our computer to survive” situation. All my photos were in that room. Years of memories with Aaron just sitting in a box, unreachable. “Stop being dramatic”, I told myself. Of course we would get into the room. “Let’s just remove the door knob!” Oddly there seemed to be no way to remove the door knob. I could see no screws of any kind. (Many months later my Mom confirmed that she too found no evidence of a way to remove the door knobs in my house. Which helps me feel validated in my final decision to knock down the door. Also, updating all the doors in my house might be a good idea). We even attempted to pry off the door knob. So at this point even if I was able to open the door without busting through it, the door was ruined because the doorknob had been mutilated by our attempt to remove it. I tried entering through the window but because I am such a responsible adult, it was locked. Breaking the window was definitely not an option…but breaking the door that seemed logical. I also had considered removing the door from its hinges but of course that could only be done from inside the room, so that idea was off the table. You might be wondering what kind of impenetrable door is this?! A STUPID one!

Picture with Stupid Door

My anxiety continued to increase. I heard Parker quietly say, “That was Daddy’s office.” He was also feeling the anxiety I was feeling. The worry of losing another piece of the only thing we had left, a memory. Which in hindsight is really silly because this door wasn’t indestructible and it wasn’t really holding our memories hostage but in that moment it was a real barrier for us, literally and figuratively. A symbol of our grief and a painful reminder of Aaron’s absence. If Aaron was here, he would have opened the door for me, and it would have been no big deal at all. I probably wouldn’t have even thanked him. I may have never even known that we were ever locked out in the first place. He would have just solved the problem and I would have never known how simple a task  this was for him, and such an impossible one for me. Could I really not get through a door in my own house? I thought about calling another man in my life. I have several that are eager to help. Brothers, a Brother in Law, an Uncle, Cousins, My Father in Law, husbands of close friends, Church leaders, all who would have come over immediately, no questions asked. What would I say? “I can’t open a door, please help!” How pathetic. No! I couldn’t do that, I needed to figure this out myself. The reality was I’m alone now, so I needed to figure it out alone. After much contemplation, I grabbed the rubber mallet and busted a hole in the door. As I reached through the hole to unlock the door, I thought, If Aaron walked through the door right know and saw what I had done he would have definitely questioned my sanity and he would not have been impressed by my efforts. I could see his face, his wide eyes of disbelief. I could hear the tone of his voice after I would have tried to explain why I decided breaking a perfectly good door was my only option. “No Robin, it wasn’t your only option. You should have figured out another way. Yeah, you got into the room but now we have another problem to fix. You should have waited for me.” BUT HE WASN’T THERE and I could only do what I knew. And what I knew was that a rubber mallet would get me into the room. Imagining what he would have said made me laugh a little but also made me long for his criticism. I wouldn’t have appreciated his words then. In fact I might have made him feel bad for saying them but he would have been right. I should have figured out another way. He taught me so much (except how to open a locked door.  Who would have thought he needed to teach me that!) and for 10 years I undervalued his talents and his advice. The kids cheered, “MOM! You did it” and Parker said, “We should have just done that in the first place!” I laughed and appreciated the kids enthusiasm as it helped assuage my guilt about ruining a perfectly good door (except it’s not really perfect because what kind of stupid door doesn’t have a door knob that can’t be removed!) I wanted to tell the kids, “Thanks, but Dad would have made it through the door without breaking it. I’ve failed and I’m not enough for you kids. I can’t be a Mom and a Dad. I’m sorry.”

That night I laid in bed and cried. What other barriers would I face? What other simple tasks would feel impossible for me? As funny as the story of me breaking down a door sounds and as “savage” (this is what the cool kids say) as I seemed to the kids, I felt inadequate to play the role of single parent. My kids have no Dad. There would be no more, “Go ask your Dad to fix it” or “When Dad gets home he will take care of it.” Instead they only have a Mom that was really good at some things but really bad at other things. That day, instead of teaching them the importance of problem solving like Aaron would have, I taught them to take a rubber mallet and break their problems into other smaller problems that later, they might regret. All the things that Aaron used to do began to flood my mind and all the things he did that I never recognized haunted me. Now, I would have to face all these tasks alone. What will I do when I don’t know what to do? I cried out to him and told him I was sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t appreciate you, I should have told you more often how important you were to me. How important you were to Parker, Taylor and Maddie. How would I ever live up to be the best of two people. I can’t even live up to be MY best self. My shortcomings were OK before because Aaron made up for them. Now, they were exposed for everyone to see.

Ruggedly Handsome Bearded Man that knows how to use 500 different types of saws with once unappreciative but now thankful wife. (who does not know how to use any saw) #givemeahammer

Recently, I had a conversation with my oldest brother about me breaking down this door. He laughed, just like everybody else probably will, but then we talked about what that moment really was for me and our conversation left me wondering some things. He shared with me that my experience was much like the concept known as the “Law of the Instrument” or the “Law of the Hammer”.  Abraham Maslow said in 1966, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”(YUP, Robin with rubber mallet plus a locked door equals broken door. It looked like a nail…OK!)  He told me, “Aaron was your Swiss Army Knife and he added a lot of tools to your collective tool bag so that you always had the right tool for the job” I thought, Well I am in big trouble because every time Aaron did a project he said, “I need to go get a tool for that!”  Did you know there are over 500 hundred different types of saws all of which I DON’T know how to use.” It’s intimidating to think about all the tools I will need to use in my life that I’m unfamiliar with, but it is inevitable that I will have to use them. But how do I acquire unknown tools when all I know is a hammer, or in my case, a rubber mallet. How do I adjust to walking through life with only a rubber mallet in my tool box when, with Aaron, it was full of many different tools? I don’t have an answer to that, but I have pondered on what The Law of the Instrument means for me and for all of us walking a broken road. We will be faced with a problem we don’t know how to solve and though we do have some tools, is it the right tool? If it isn’t, what will you do to make sure you get the right tool? When I was faced with that locked door and had no way to open it, I should have set my pride aside and called someone that had the right tool for the job. I should have showed my kids that it’s OK to seek help even when we are embarrassed. I should have stood by my classroom motto, “There is no such thing as a stupid question only an opportunity for growth.” My brother could have taught me how to open a locked door that day WITHOUT a rubber mallet. It might have been a little embarrassing for me but am willing to bet that he would have felt great love from me as I sought his help as well as been grateful for the opportunity to express his love for me, my children, and Aaron as he supported us in our time of need. I often stop and think why we have families? Why do we long for relationships that matter? Why weren’t we just sent here to live on our own? I’m sure we would survive alone, but I don’t believe that God designed us to walk this life alone. We weren’t alone before this life and we won’t be after this life so, why walk alone today? So, when all I have is a hammer and I actually need a saw…I won’t use the hammer, I’ll find and learn to use the saw!

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