Over the last 12 years, I’ve come to realize a few things after you lose someone close to your heart. All you look for day in and day out is just that little piece of hope, compassion and meaning in everything you do to help the days go by easier. Because now I’ve come to fully understand the truth about life being a precious gift that should be cherished and handled with care. And above all, I’ve learned that there are absolutely no guarantees in life.
And I’m sure that most of you would agree that cancer is a giant Son of a Bitch that takes without question, prejudice or reason. My father spent his entire life taking care of people as a nurse. Standing by their bedside, caring for them when they were ill and nursing them back to health. He was the type of man who always put the needs of his family, friends and often times complete strangers ahead of his own. And in the end, cancer riddled his body and took the life of my 70-year-old father, who before he got sick didn’t look a day over 50. My father taught me to always give a smile to everyone, try to never judge anyone and always be kind to everyone I meet. These are just of the few lessons I’ve tried to carry with me throughout my life especially now that he’s been gone for 12 years last January.
But the even more unbelievable thing about cancer, it is often the stealthiest and deadliest ghost in the room that slithers through the window and inflicts its victims ‘overnight.’ And one day the healthiest man or woman, young or old, can be stricken down and gone within months, if not days because cancer is just that bully in the playground who gets what he wants no matter what.
After losing someone, hearing people tell you that old adage that so many love to say, “It will only get better with time” is sometimes one of the most annoying things to hear. I believe that is the biggest misnomer that has ever been spoken and must have been thought up years ago by someone who had no idea what else to say and unfortunately it stuck. Because it doesn’t ever truly get better. The scars heal over, the pain lessens to a dull numbness and life keeps moving forward whether you like it or not.
When my stepson died nearly five years ago, we were truly faced with the idea of ‘here one minute and gone the next.’ He was the type of young man who could command a room’s attention just by walking through the door, the sense of humor that could leave you laughing for days and a strong family bond at the age of 18 that was truly unbreakable. And while cancer is a truly senseless disease, I believe the loss of a child at any age whether it is from disease, accident or crime is just unnatural because parents are not intended to outlive their children.
While some people unfortunately turn to drugs, alcohol, blaming other people, or even collapsing within themselves when tragedy strikes, it is all too easy to believe we have been forsaken by God. But I believe it is through the small ways we are offered help by others that God is providing his help, often times to give us the strength to pull ourselves through to the other side. Whether it is that friend, who calls every day for weeks to make sure you up and ready for work every morning. Or it’s a wife helping her husband see the children who are still living and standing in front of him, needing his guidance, security and love more than ever despite the child he lost. Or even the screaming newborn, who forces you to get up every three or four hours for nourishment and love.
I do believe that everything happens for a reason, but perhaps those reasons may never be clearly explained to us in this lifetime. But someday we will understand why we endured the pain of loss, hardship, letting go, moving on, and moving forward whether it was inch by inch and hour by hour at times.
To this day, I remember driving down the highway and a torrential downpour hit, leaving it impossible for me to even see the road at all. But I remembered the semi-truck barreling down behind me just before the rain hit. So I tried my hardest to move to the side of the highway. Knowing my husband was at work, on instinct I picked up the phone to dial my stepson to come get me because my hands were shaking so hard I could barely move and at that moment I was unable to drive. As I dialed the phone, I realized that I was calling a person who was no longer living and reaching out to a young man whose voice I just desperately wanted to hear one more time. That day, I sat on the side of the highway, sobbing, missing my stepson and my father for no related reasons whatsoever. I just missed them and for that moment needed to cry for them, about them and with them. And I guess I could mention this was also over a year after my stepson had died.
From time to time, I swear I still hear my father’s or my stepson’s voice ring in my ears when it comes to various situations. Or I still see glimpses of both them when I am out whether at the grocery store or even on a passing boat at the lake. Or this past summer, when I swore my stepson was standing on the opposite side of my four-year-old, both he and my husband holding Sweet Pea’s hands as they jumped from the cliff at the lake. I know it was just my imagination, but I swear he was there whether just in my head, in spirit or a brief glimpse because he wanted to be there at that moment since he would’ve relished every second of that with his million dollar smile.
So now in my life, every day is spent looking for one piece of hope, compassion or meaning to help get me through the next 24 hours. I try to hug my children a little tighter and kiss them all over whenever I have to leave them. I always kiss my husband and tell him I love him every chance I get. I talk to my mother every day, sometimes multiple times a day too, and always end the conversation with an “I love you.” And I’m trying to learn from the mistake I made with my stepson by never telling him I loved him before he died because the time never felt right. So now I try to tell my stepdaughter I love her every chance I get because there is no time like the present.
Life changes every single second and its far to precious to get hung up on the petty bullshit in life that will mean nothing when we leave this earth. Grudges, hard feelings, bitterness and jealousy are just useless aspects of our human nature that will get us nowhere except places we don’t want to go.