The Birthday

I heard a song and these lyrics made me cry. Today would have been my father’s 72nd birthday.

In the almost nine months since he’s been gone, I have heard all sorts of advice:

“He’s in a better place,” with a hefty dose of “It’s God’s Will.”

Yes, I agree. Cancer is an evil disease that creates a very special breed of suffering.

But even as I struggle with my faith, this is one unshakeable truth.

Watching him die was its own torture, and the slow, inexorable march of destruction the cancer wrought on his body and mind haunts me. I think it always will. And certainly railing against God, particularly for something as merciful as finally ending his suffering, will avail me nothing.

“It gets easier.”

Perhaps. It hasn’t yet. Some say I should give it more time. Others, that I should have been feeling better by some specific date or time. Yeah, none of that happened. I just moved my tears to the shower, or the car, when I’m alone and my mind is insufficiently occupied. Honestly, I think people just say this because the alternative is unpalatable.

“It never gets easier.”

I believe this one is true.

Perhaps because I was blessed to not have truly watched suffering, or because before the stakes weren’t so high, it didn’t bother me as much in my teens and twenties when I lost people. Of course, none of them were as close to me as my own father.

But now, faced with the realities of motherhood and mortality, the responsibilities of providing for my children and the worry of aging parents, and cursed with a greater knowledge of the dangers and evils of the world, I know that I will continue to receive this news. With it comes the grief—my own and that of other loved ones. And knowing how much it hurts now, how much others will hurt, how much they will continue to hurt, it makes my heart hurt.

I’m not convinced the pain ever grows easier to bear.

All I know is that I’ll never get to hear my dad’s voice (or advice) again, feel his hand in mine, or share the joy of our lives together.

There is nothing I can do about it.

I can’t fix it.

I can’t take away my pain.

I can only keep myself so busy, my mind so occupied, that I don’t allow my sorrow to consume me.

Because I still feel lost.

Death, Euphemisms, and Bad Words

Today’s Word Wednesday is a departure from our regularly scheduled programming. I’ve been ruminating on what certain words mean to me, so we’ll have at it.

January took a sorrowful turn when my father lost his battle with cancer. I have not spoken of his health on the blog before, except in the loosest of references. Honestly, it has been too painful, knowing as we did that his diagnosis was terminal.

And in speaking of it now, it’s difficult to say–much less write–the words “my father died.” We have so many euphemisms for describing the end of life.

Words We Use to Describe Death

One friend recently called it “transitioning,” which was a new term for me, but which makes me think of a new job (or of Caitlyn Jenner).

An aunt has always referred to her deceased as “expired.” But when I think of expired milk, if it’s not gone a little sour, maybe I could still use it up. And my husband and I joke, as stinky people do, when our deodorant has quit for the day, that we’ve “expired” in the sense that we now smell a bit sour ourselves.

Technically, “expire” also refers to an exhalation from the lungs, so using expire to describe the exhalation of the spirit from the body and the fact that an inhalation is not sure to follow may be appropriate after all. It was, ultimately, respiratory failure for my father: an expiration his last mortal act.

Then there is “lost,” as in “I lost my father.”

I didn’t lose him in the sense that I don’t know where he is. I know exactly where he is, saw for myself the funeral home, the cremation oven, the ashes, and the flowing water where we poured them.

Because despite the many definitions of “lost,” the first one that registers for me is always being unable to find one’s way.

Sure, there are other definitions: something irrecoverable, as he is now, or in which a defeat has been sustained, as he did with cancer.

And now, more than usual, I find myself struggling to find my own way, not fully knowing where I am as tears threaten the surface at the slightest provocation and at the most inopportune and unexpected of moments.

So “lost” doesn’t seem appropriate to describe my father so much as it describes me.

The word “loss,” however, carries with it the sense of something now absent and greatly missed despite its rather redundant and unhelpful definition. Yet “I experienced the loss of my father” is rather a mouthful though it is quite accurate.

Moving Forward

And as for my resolutions for 2017, the verb for “resolution” is “resolve.” I resolved to do certain things in 2017. We make resolutions usually with an aim toward achievement or self-betterment. At this particular time, self-betterment dictates that I treat myself kindly. The time for aggressive writing achievement is not now.

Writing has always provided a solace for me, and making it a burdensome chore or stressor at a time when I need comfort more than ever will backfire. I do not ever want to publish a work that I’m not proud to sign my name to, so if that means my writing needs to take a backseat to my emotional health, so be it. I am still writing, and I am still going to meet my goals.

Final Thoughts

Many people think of four-letter words as the worst ones they know. Well, the vilest word I know is “cancer.” It’s an evil disease. I’ve watched it destroy a strong man and take a  terrible toll on his caregivers, primarily my mother.

Toward the end, certainly, and even before that, what cancer did to my father was no way for a person to live. It was no way for my mother to live either, constantly in fear and worry about what the next hour might bring. His suffering is at an end, but the rest of us still have to come to terms.

Please, please schedule your preventive care visits for 2017 now, when you have time for the things that get in the way, to reschedule them so that you fit them in this year. Prevention, especially with cancer, is so much more reliable than the cure.

Short but frequent doctor’s visits can allow you to avoid the nightmare of chemotherapy, the pain of physical therapy, and the horror that is cancer.

In memory of my father, I beg of you to do it for yourself.