It’s like a beautiful sunset in your rearview mirror. When you look ahead, the sun doesn’t grace the sky any longer. The sunset is a final wave goodbye to the day ending and calls you back to reminisce. The colors – red, orange, yellow, pink, blue, and purple, are the memories that keep you up at night. The palette of emotions you feel and the scheme of what was my father’s life. This is what I equate to grief. Grief is the awareness that at 20 years of age, the happiest days of my life have already happened. To make that concept a little less desolate for those who now think I’m a pessimist… try and think of it like this: The sun will shine again, it just won’t ever be as bright. Life will never be what it was. My memories of cancer-free carefree days are my everlasting sunset. My wave goodbye to a life so strange and far away to me now.
When I say that statement to some people I can see the levels of discomfort falling within them. People tell me things like: “You’re so young; your life will be happy again”. Or, the most frequent: “Yeah, losing a loved one is really hard but time heals all things”. What I want to stress to you is that this is my truth and my reality. I will never lead a life of ignorance to tragedy. I will always end my days wondering “Where are you now?”, “I wonder what life would be like…”, “I wish you could have met (insert everybody’s name I meet for the rest of my life here)”. If you’re undergoing intense grief I’m sure you have gotten used to the unfortunate fact that people’s daftest comments are inescapable. What I’ve had to come to terms with is that it’s not their fault. They don’t understand. And quite frankly, I don’t want anyone to understand because that would mean they have experienced something similar. I was one of them a year ago. I was one of them until February 2016 – Otherwise known as when life’s impermanence unpacked its bags in my family’s life and decided it was establishing permanent residency.
Last February 2nd, a year ago, my Dad was told he had stage III colon cancer. He spent his birthday, February 3rd, thinking he had multiple treatment options and a long life still ahead of him. The doctors were “hopeful” until scans showed they shouldn’t be. A year ago on March 3rd, my Dad started his first chemotherapy treatment with the knowledge that his body was failing him indefinitely….That he was going to fall victim along with 50,000 others who lost their battle to colon cancer in 2016. What people need to know is colon cancer is being found in people under the age of 50 more frequently, which is the recommended screening age for a colonoscopy. It is not an older person’s cancer anymore. A colonoscopy is the only way to screen for this cancer and once you start developing symptoms, it is undoubtedly at an advanced stage with a hopeful survival rate at stage III and a terrifyingly low survival rate at stage IV. This cancer is preventable, which is a thought that will haunt me for the rest of my life. I’m not going to broach any more facts, but after reading this you have no excuse. If your parents haven’t had a colonoscopy for whatever reason, just know that chemotherapy is more inconvenient – death is forever inconvenient.
When I found out his illness was terminal, I was alone at a bus stop in the dark. His days were numbered and there was nothing I could do about it. One of my best friends told me signs would jump out at me and that life would transform into one giant search for meaning. So the next day, at that same bus stop I saw something I never paid attention to before. There’s a small-graphitized message that reads: “Fight for life Never give up.” A year later I still see it at least four times a week. The meaning has changed from my Dad’s actual health and life – to my metaphorical one. Because for all I know I’m not dying and I have 70 plus years to roam this planet. The meaning changed to my Mom’s life, my Sister’s life, my family’s life and my personal fight that will never have an end. Our unceasing fight to take our attention out of the rearview mirror at least for enough time to make sure he didn’t die for nothing.
It’s like a beautiful sunset in your rearview mirror. When you look ahead, you see a taunting gray that’s daring you to “make the best of it”. What the gray doesn’t understand is that your sunset instilled the colors within you for 19 years and 356 days that prepared you to be able to handle it.
We love and miss you.