Maybe it’s “easier” to lose someone slowly, like we lost Dad, instead of him leaving one day and just never coming back. With a sudden loss, you’ve lost your opportunity for a final goodbye. To be sure they know how you feel. Whereas with a loss you can see coming, you can prepare. Say everything you need to say.
Having lived through one of those scenarios, it’s still really hard to tell which would be easier. As you’ve likely read by now, there was nothing easy about watching a person you love fade away. Looking back, I actually think that was, still to date, the hardest part of the entire experience. Helplessly watching it all happen. Knowing the end is coming but not knowing when. Being a bystander to another’s suffering.
My Dad and I have always been close. I am like him in so many ways, it was always easy for us to connect. So much so, I don’t recall having any final words to say. We knew where we stood with each other, kinda always had. Our relationship had developed as I’d become an adult and we were truly friends. Which is what made the watching part so much worse. I knew that’s not what he would have wanted, to be lying in the bed like that. He was the go go go guy that didn’t have any intentions of slowing down, old age be damned!
But the watching part aside, maybe it was easier that it happened slower for the grieving process. We got to prepare. We got to rehearse. Maybe because we saw it coming, the immediate loss wasn’t so hard and we were able to move forward faster.
As I’m writing this, it’s been a month now since we said goodbye. At times it still doesn’t seem real. It feels like he’s still here. And in a lot of ways I hope that never changes. I always want to be able to feel him. Hear him. Have him alongside me. I’m not sure exactly what stage of grief I’m in but that’s actually a point I want to emphasize.
There is no right way to grieve. It’s looked different for myself, for Mom, for Ben, for the rest of our family. If you’re on your own path of grief right now hear this: whatever you’re feeling is OKAY. Angry? Sad? Overwhelmed? Fine? It’s all okay. There is not set timeline for these things and I can promise you, those feelings will change frequently. Process how you need to, but do take the time to process. For me, it was through writing and being surrounded by the right people. For others it’s talking. For others it’s being alone. You can’t ignore what you’re feeling, that will only lengthen the time to heal. So feel whatever you’re feeling. Sit in it. Allow it. Understand it. Embrace it.
For me, finding moments of joy each day remained a constant. But I think that’s kind of who I am. During our days at the hospital, and even on the day we lost Dad, we had laughter. There’d be a story shared that had us rolling, or Mom and I would inadvertently end up talking about poop in the hallway and a nurse would walk by and we’d all bust out laughing. My point is: I didn’t really know what to expect as each day progressed towards Dad’s passing. And what transpired was nothing close to what I could have predicted. There were moments of absolute inappropriateness, intense emotions, morbid comments, and complete silliness.
It wasn’t all sad. And the days since then haven’t been either. I know there’s a lot of healing left to do, and I’m going to have to take an active role in making that healing happen. I will forever be a more complex human. This is life experience. This is something I can pass on. Something I can apply in my own future.
Cancer didn’t happen to us. It simply became a part of who we are. And for whatever reason, it was supposed to.
Maybe, it was to fuel something bigger.
Over the last almost two years, I’ve learned a whole lot about cancer. I will never forget a statistic shared by a doctor along the way: that over 60% of the people who have the disease in their lifetime have gotten it by chance. Simply by a mutation in the cell replication process. Nothing to do with their health, diet, genetics or environment. Just bad luck.
Cancer also has the second highest kill rate in our country, following only heart disease. There are hundreds of types of cancer and very few have been deemed “curable.” Many are this way because they are so difficult to detect. As you likely read in “Chapter 1: A Long Goodbye,” Dad would have been gone years ago if not for his car accident that revealed a tumor on his kidney. The terrifying reality: cancer grows in silence.
But what if we forced it to talk?
We are a long way away from curing cancer, especially in all its forms. I have a complete faith that we will get to that point, but what about until then? I know what it was like to have those extra years with my father. And what if, at least until we uncover cures, we can grant those extra years?
Here’s my proposal: let’s make cancer screenings as common as your annual check up.
I don’t know how. I don’t know when. I don’t know where to start with insurance coverage and the radiation effects from the necessary tests. I don’t know. But I do have this feeling of peace and certainty around the idea. And that’s enough for now.