Not Losing My Shit

Not too long ago, I told you all about my dad, who is very ill. Now that the news has sunk in a little, it’s easier to talk about, although there is this constant hole inside of me that burns away at my heart because I know that eventually, this illness will steal him from me. Despite knowing this, I cling to hope. I know it’s pointless, but I find myself replaying scenarios in my mind, thinking maybe we deserve a miracle and it will happen. Maybe he won’t leave me before I’m ready to let him go. I force myself to forget that I don’t believe in miracles.

The reality is that my dad has stage 4 colon cancer. The tumor is large and it has passed through his colon wall and into his liver. It is all through his liver actually. There was hope that perhaps remission would be possible, or that surgery might remove some of it, but after consulting with doctors and surgeons, it’s been decided that’s not likely. Surgery is not an option. Ever.

He continues to fight, undergoing chemotherapy in the hope that he can slow or stop the cancer’s growth, and buy some time, but it’s tough. If you’ve ever experienced chemotherapy, either yourself or through a loved one, you know this is not a pleasant treatment. It’s brutal and it’s hard to stay positive and optimistic about it when you feel like a bag of shit 24 hours a day. Dealing with the side effects of chemo is the only time he’s mentioned giving up. Once he’s through it, he takes the reigns again.

I wasn’t going to write about this again, not here, not anywhere “public” but recently I came to a realization that’s strangely positive. Grief is a powerfully debilitating emotion, but we writers are actually quite lucky. We can take these emotions, this overwhelming pain, and we can turn it into something good. Perhaps we’ll never share those thoughts and feelings with the rest of the world, but we have an outlet to at least get it out of our hearts. I haven’t written much since my dad was diagnosed. Well, that’s a lie. I’ve written dozens of articles and such, but I’ve written nothing “for me.” To be honest, most days I feel like I’m barely hanging on. Working, trying to spend time with my dad, comforting family and friends, looking after my kids, hoping to give them a good summer vacation despite what Fate has thrown at us, and trying to process all of this seemingly endless bad news has me constantly on edge, ready to topple over. I’ve seen more ugly cries than I ever thought I’d see, but I’ve managed to keep my own limited to early morning showers.

I watched my parents, their siblings, close friends, and my brothers, get their hopes up countless times, only to have reality stomp the shit out of them. How many things must a person endure before they break? The answer? There’s no need to break. We have this. Words. Sentences. Paragraphs. We can release all that shit right here on the page. Sure, we’re still sad and angry, but we’re coping. Sometimes “getting over it” isn’t an option, so coping with it is the only way to keep going.

But  I haven’t been coping. I hadn’t written anything until today. Every time I opened a Word document or a notebook and prepared myself to write, I just couldn’t do it. There were no words there. I had nothing. I panicked, and I let fear move in. What would I do if I couldn’t write? It’s the only way I know to process what I’m feeling. It’s the only coping tool I have. I’ve realized since then that I just wasn’t ready yet.

I can’t imagine a world without my dad. I don’t want to. I’m a very fortunate person in that my parents have always been the center of my life. They are not just the people who raised me. They’re my friends, my advisors, and my most loyal supporters. My dad is the single person in this world that I knew would always be in my corner, no matter how stupid my decisions or actions. Trust me, I’ve done some pretty dumb things in my life. I’m sure he knows every one of them, even if I didn’t outright confess to a few.

He never judges, never says much of anything about what I’ve managed to fuck up. Occasionally he makes a joke or a sarcastic crack about the results of my stupidity, and we laugh. I say anyone that can make you laugh when things look dark is a special person. You should hang onto those people with all you have. He stepped up when my ex stepped down. He became the father my daughter needed so desperately but didn’t have. No questions asked. No “I told you so’s.”  (and he did tell me so, many times) He just helped me to pick up the pieces and we kept going, as though that “other guy”  he warned me about never happened.

When I was little, I used to think my dad had to be the strongest man alive. Sure he wasn’t very big, but he was fast and didn’t quit until the job was done. He came from nothing. His parents lacked the ability to make him feel loved and special, and this town certainly wasn’t kind to him for most of his life. Yet, he never held it against people, not even his asshole parents. My dad did whatever he could to help someone out, even if secretly he thought they were “useless as tits on a board.” If someone needs help, my dad believes that you should give it, even if they’d never do the same for you.

As kids, we knew he’d always be there for us. As adults, he’s still there. Day or night, he would come when we called. Even when that call is at 3am because one of us thought a mouse might be in our kitchen. Yeah…I did that more than I care to admit.

A few days ago, I received a call from someone who had caused nothing but pain to the people dearest to me. He apparently felt the need to tell me that he’d been diagnosed with cancer, but has since been “cured.” Huh. In my heart, I was screaming. I was furious. How was it fair that a person who’d wasted the life given to him, who’d caused so much misery and grief to decent, kind people, should get to live, while a man with a kind heart, who’d fought through so much shit to overcome his demons and make things right with those he wronged, is going to die? How is that fair? It’s not. Life isn’t fair. It’s a lesson that will continue to be taught until we get it and accept it.

I can’t begin to describe how special both of my parents are. I can’t yet put into words how angry and sad I feel that my dad will be gone long before his time. But I’m working on it. I’m writing about it. Finally.

Writing has given me the tools to cope with that loss of control I feel at my dad’s illness. There is nothing I can do and that is the worst part in this nightmare. Losing someone in an instant is something I think would be almost preferable to this long goodbye. Knowing that someone so dear to you will be gone sooner rather than later is a tough pill to swallow. Having an indefinite amount of time to prepare…it’s not a gift. It’s hard. It’s soul shattering to hear his voice every day and have your brain whisper that you won’t hear that voice soon. It’s beyond difficult to share laughter  and experiences when you have that shadow constantly hovering over every moment, every memory.
In his shoes, I’m not sure I wouldn’t completely lose my shit. Yet, my dad apologizes if he leans on us, and he tries to make everyone feel better about this nightmare. Instead of wallowing, he’s making the best of things. I’m not sure I’d know where to start doing that.

I wrote this post several times. One version was full of profanity and bitter anger. I thought that definitely wasn’t one to burden you guys with, so I wrote another. But the second one was full of resignation, a sad confession to the world that I am not as strong as I pretend to be, and a plea for the world to stop making me be that person. But then I thought that was rather…weak. I didn’t like that one at all. The final version, before this one, was a single line “It’s not fair.” Then I realized after deleting that line, I don’t feel as sad or as angry as I did before I started. I felt…unburdened.

When I write about feelings that I don’t know how to process, I feel like I’m taking some control back. It might sound silly, but that helps. I’m still devastated, but now the future beyond this illness isn’t just a black pit of despair. The clouds have lifted enough for me to imagine going on. I can see my girls growing and healing, and making their papa proud. I see me doing what he always believed I could do. This dream of publishing has seemed so trivial in light of recent events and I refused to indulge myself in it over these past months. But now, I see that I will get there. For him and for all the time and love he put into making me the kind of person who doesn’t back down from something just because it’s hard.

As you can see, I can write again, and that means I’ll be just fine.

9 thoughts on “Not Losing My Shit

  1. It's never fair. My grandmother was my only cheerleader and she died two years ago from lung cancer. Every time I see some 80 year old hick smoking it up, alive and kicking, I want to punch them in the throat. I understand what you're going through, and you're right. Even when the overwhelming emotion isn't grief, writing it all down helps you purge yourself of all the things you're feeling so that you can continue. When I get overwhelmed, I have this ritual of writing down everything that's making me feel that way, then balling it up and throwing it in the trash. I always feel better afterward.It's going to get harder before it gets easier, but it will get there. Promise.

  2. Writing about your feelings openly is the most powerful form of self-therapy. Just like you did with the first two versions of this post. Both were true, both were the way you're really feeling: angry & weak. And both these overwhelming feelings were mellowed out through writing. Honesty in what you put to paper always brings you closer to peace with reality, one step at a time.Of course it's not fair. It never is. That's because fairness is an abstract notion, and nature & life don't follow notions of any kind, they only move along. The only natural thing you can do now is to move along with them. If you try to oppose the flow of things, which you cannot stop or influence, you will only put yourself in a position to be run over for certain. Go with the flow, however painful, because it's the natural way of things. There will be less opposition, and less pain down the road.And always remember, even if there are thousands of miles between us, you are not alone.

  3. I wrote a short essay about my father's life and all-too-quick death from pancreatic cancer.The essay was remarkably cathartic.Even though I had never written anything before, I sent the essay to that giant writing contest (Writer's Digest) and it won an honorable mention out of more than 18,000 entries.I've always felt it won because I wrote from the heart. And those are the strongest words of all. Even after ten years, it still makes me cry.Katrina is right. It will get harder before it gets easier. The pain will mellow, softened by perspective and gratitude for having him in your life.Remember that your friends are never far away. Don't hesitate to reach out to us.

  4. very brave and honest post, Renee. And although all of your posts are, I think this subject is a lot harder to write about–so sorry your family is going through this. And for what it's worth, I do believe in miracles.

  5. @Vero: I know you've always got my back and thanks for "listening" to my bitch sessions on FB chat. It's helped more than you know. @Maria: I think you're right about your essay. I wrote a novel inspired by the obstacles my parents overcame and I think that it is one of the most honest and raw things I've written. Good enough to publish? Meh. But it's special to me just the same. Writing this post over and over again was cathartic and it helped soften the edges a little. @authorinprogress: I wish I could believe in miracles, but we're not done yet. Perhaps something will change my mind. 🙂

  6. Beautifully said. Thank you for sharing.I wish I had something to say that would make this all better for you, but there is nothing I can say or do that can make it all go away.I have you in my prayers.

  7. What can I say that hasn't already been beautifully expressed here? Just that – and I think I said it before – your dad will always be with you, Renee, and so will your friends

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