In 2010, when I was writing Heart Warriors, I read Lucy Grealy’s book Autobiography of a Face. I read it after first reading Ann Patchett’s tragic book Truth & Beauty,written about Grealy. Honestly, the good versus mediocre memoirs I’ve read are fairly equal with a few being downright bad. These two books, however, were incredibly good. I had never heard of Grealy’s book until I read about her in Patchett’s memoir of their friendship. I will always be pleased that I did.
In Autobiography of a Face, Grealy recounts long and lonely stretches in a children’s ward at a hospital while she battled a cancer that killed almost everyone who had it, except her. In the process, she lost most of her jaw bone, and the disfigurement shaped her life more than surviving cancer did.
Yet, I will never forget how Lucy Grealy described the pain of chemotherapy drugs entering and burning her body and her mother hovering over her demanding Lucy not cry. Upon reading Grealy’s words, I swore I would never tell either of my kids stop crying when crying is entirely appropriate (I would tell them not to cry if they were throwing a fit about getting a toy at the store). While Grealy’s mother told her to stop crying, her father left her alone in the room during treatment while he waited outside. This is something else I would never do unless Liam demanded I leave. I’m not judging Grealy’s parents. She was older than I am and far older than Liam is. She and her parents lived in a completely different time in history. I have learned from Grealy’s illness and reflection though; and hers is such a glorious gift.
Today, I took Liam for his third blood draw in barely one month. He didn’t cry. Unlike the last two times, tears didn’t even rise to the rims of his eyes. I never told him not to cry; in fact when it was over I told him he was brave but it still would have been OK if he cried. He told me it was all right because he’s getting used to it.
I don’t know if Liam’s “getting used to it” is a good thing or a bad thing. I just know that he is stronger than he should need to be at ten years old. I just know that the next time he cries, I’ll keep telling him it’s OK to cry, and I’ll remember Lucy Grealy and wish someone had said that to her.