My father was diagnosed with cancer this week — and I’ll be honest, positivity is not on my side. The C-word signifies death. Regardless of its stage — its severity — it’s a natural conclusion that we all eventually succumb to. My article is not to say that you should be immune from worry, and at the most somber point, not be realistic as to what this disease can do. No — this article will focus on the moments in between, the positive ones because even in the darkest cloud, sunlight always breaks through.
I lost my mom to Stage IV breast cancer when I was 26-years old. Growing up, my itinerary didn’t include funerals and cemetery plots or slates of gray that have stayed in my bank account rather than in the ground because even now, two years’ later, I can’t muster up the strength to put my mother’s name on stone. When she was sick, I spent a lot of time denying the severity of her disease. I feared death. It acted upon her like conquest and I was powerless to stop it. Even after she was gone, my grief took the form of anger. Like a villain in a children’s storybook, every move I made was calculated to ensure I’d forgo my happy ending. How could I be happy when my mother’s dead?
On the precipice of happiness again – on the precipice of even trying to regain control – cancer struck our family once again, only this time, I didn’t have my mother’s love and vibrancy to help me through it. Facing my father’s illness was an uphill battle in many ways. For starters, I’m facing it alone. For second starters, my father wants to die, because to him, living any longer without my mother is a life far worse condemned than death. I don’t want that. How could I ever be comfortable with the notion that my father is going to die? How could I ever be comfortable with his own level of comfortability?
Finding The Happy Moments
My father is a great man — a wise man; a man who has helped me in dire situations time and time again. I recall this past summer as I felt broken, ill-equipped to find the happiness in the mountain of grief that rested upon my shoulders as my impending nuptials grew closer, I cried to him, angry that so many people in my life begged me to look toward the positive. My father, earnest as ever, said to me, “Of course your wedding is going to suck, but it doesn’t mean you can’t find happy moments in between.”
I have no choice but to face my father’s cancer diagnosis the same way. Coming to grips with things that are outside your control isn’t easy, and I’m hardly an expert in the trade. What I have learned, however, is that what is meant to be in life is going to remain that way, and in the interim, I can’t shy away from the happy moments in between. Avoiding laughter when something is really funny isn’t going to turn the clocks back on my father’s diagnosis. Not making plans because I’m fearful of the future won’t translate into a guarantee that the time of day, month or even year, is going to be immune from that phone call I’m not going to want to take. Living in fearful anticipation is my worst enemy, and I’ve learned that from going through this already with my mother — a woman who I can’t necessarily blame for calling her husband home.
Grief takes on many forms, and I’m just as open to my tears and my worry as I am looking at vacation spots in the Caribbean and laughing without feeling guilty. On the morning my mother died, I woke up, blissfully unaware that she was being resuscitated on our dining room floor in front of my father who watched as the EMT’s apologized for not being able to revive her. On that morning, I woke up happy — determined to live life beautifully. Receiving that call on the side of the highway on my way to work, telling me my mother was dead, changed everything for the worse.
Life Cares Not For Your Plans
For years, I’d been scared that whenever I was happy that it meant something tragic was about to happen. Well, that logic has failed me with my father’s diagnosis because it happened during a week when I was feeling my lowest, when I felt estranged from who I’d been all those years ago when I was happy — when I was just a free spirit who didn’t have cancer always sitting at the edge of my lips ready to escape. If tragedy struck during my highest of highs and lowest of lows, then only I could be powerful enough to change the way I’m thinking.
I don’t want my father to die. I don’t want to be orphaned by the time I’m 30. I don’t want my children to only hear of their grandparents in stories, the way I did with my father’s. I envisioned life differently, with my mother watching me walk down the aisle and my father, being alive long enough to watch me publish a novel, walk across the stage with my graduate degree, and become a mom of my own. I’m not ready to go through this heartache again — watch him lose his hair like my mother, watch him deteriorate like my mother, say goodbye to him, peaceful in a casket like my mother. For as strong as I am, losing both your parents before the age of 30 is a crime I wouldn’t wish on my greatest enemy. And trust me, I have enemies.
It’s because of this that I allow myself to face my weaknesses, to address my fears and how I’m scared of holding hope because at any moment it could flutter by. It’s because of this, I continue living, continue laughing, continue my daily routine because, at the end of the day, there’s nothing I can do to stop it. This is the new normalcy our family must face. I don’t want it, but I accept it. It’s like my father said, “Of course this entire thing is going to suck, but it doesn’t mean we can’t find the happy moments in between.”