I did not say all I could, but it was enough.
In the way we assign roles to those in our lives, I became your truth teller and acknowledged the world as it was.
This I knew: you were sick and you would die. You knew this truth, too: how could you not?
It came from within your body, and seeped into the chemicals that together orchestrated fear and dread in your brain, a little more each day. Maybe it chose you due to a combination of environment and genetic material, or maybe it was just a bunch of wild, mutated cells on a wrecking mission for no reason at all.
Here is irony: poison growing from the most lifegiving part of your body, destined to take your life, and with great pain.
In order that my thoughts do not become bitter, I comfort myself with the knowing: I told her the truth when others did their best to lie.
What nearly unyielding sorrow it was to watch. Most days after chemo I drove back to work punching the steering wheel in rage. “Rip out my hair,” I yelled, “sap my strength, make me vomit uncontrollably and unable to eat.”
And now all I can do is to know. I did not lie to you, because we are alike in that way. I know it gave you some small relief, acknowledging that it was as terrible as you knew it to be, deep within your bones.
I don’t have advice for anyone on how to watch a parent die of cancer. It’s awful, like having a wound re-opened, over and over again. I’m not sure there’s any wisdom to be gained from the experience, and if there is, it’s a little bit of clarity that cuts you wide open.
I better understand now, how people become wired into addictions, unhealthy relationships, and self-destruction. Divorce and grief have given me a great deal of empathy. As I get older I’m seeing that we’re responsible for measuring and doling our energy more carefully, but that knowing this doesn’t give us the right to be judgmental.
My dad’s Parkinson’s is starting to progress, too. I don’t anticipate that it will be any easier watching him suffer than it was watching my mom. I’ve watched him shuffle down the hall with two canes and wondered what will happen the day he just can’t get his limbs to move.
There’s a history of cancer in my mom’s family, and in my dad’s family there’s a history of Parkinson’s progressing into dementia. They both succumbed to their genetic destinies. It’s probably good odds I’ll get one of those things by the time I’m 50 or 60, and honestly the prospect of that scares the hell out of me.
So mostly, I think about now.
There is an urgency in my life, not to accomplish big things or go to amazing places (although I have dreams about those things, like anyone), but to live now and to not waste anything. Writing, music, becoming truly invested in my life: these are the things that have to happen right now. Not in five years or ten or twenty, but now.
When you get older, the world doesn’t make more sense, it makes less. The trick is to balance the responsibility that comes with age, with the ethos of the young, who understand biologically, if not intellectually, that you can’t afford to wait to invest in your passions.
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