Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Why of It

Sometimes I can't clearly remember the me that was before my dad got sick, the person who thought all problems could be solved with effort, the person who believed the world pretty much made sense, the person who believed that good came from good.  

Sometimes I still don’t believe that my dad isn’t still here with us, and – here’s the whole truth – when I have those moments of thinking that, I sometimes let myself bask in the glory of that belief for a little while.  It feels like lying on a beach, soaking in the sun, when these moments occur, but then, inevitably, the sun goes behind a cloud or, worse, a thunderstorm appears from out of nowhere, just like Dad’s cancer did.  

Sometimes I think that whole thing about the five stages of grief is inaccurate.  There is such a flooding of emotions, a constant state of flux, and I’m not sure it isn’t essentially stagnant since there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.  If the stages do exist as stated, I guess I am clinging onto Denial and fighting off Acceptance, almost as vigorously as I clung to Hope as I fought Dad’s cancer.  And the Anger, I am holding onto that too.  I want revenge, I want justice, I want to lash out; I think that would feel good after all that has happened that feels so awful.  Hell, what I really want is to have my dad back, happy and healthy, and I don’t think it’s too much to wish for that to happen, if only in my memories.

Because mostly what I remember these days is the him while he was sick.  I don’t understand why that is!  I had him for over four decades before the time when he had a zipper of a scar on the top of his head and confusion and fear in his eyes.  Why is that the way I am seeing him now, as he was during just ten of the 2194 weeks I had him during my life?  

Dad never asked, “Why me?” when he was sick.  He did wonder why he got brain cancer, but he thought about it in terms of what he had done to cause the cancer; he thought his health was his responsibility.  He wondered aloud if it could have been caused by the chlorine in the pools where he did so much swimming; he said he thought maybe it was somehow from too much running or from having too many bike wrecks.  While he was in rehab, he asked the neuropsychologist if the cancer came from talking on a cell phone too much, and, even though Dad wasn’t one of those people who seems to have his phone permanently connected to the side of his head and even though to date there is no conclusive evidence that there is a link, the guy told him there could be a connection.  Dad asked the doctors at Duke if they knew what could’ve caused it, and the team of neuro-oncologists there who are some of the leaders in the world in the field of brain cancer told him the causes were unknown.  It made me so sad to see him guiltily ask these questions, all framed with self-reproach, and somehow remembering that now fuels my anger even more.  DAMN that he had to wonder and worry and that he still somehow thought he needed to apologize for having gotten brain cancer.  Not right, not fair.  Add that to the list.

Dad wasn’t ever one to over-think or really contemplate the “why” or “why not” of things; before he got sick, he used to joke around about the saying, “It is what it is.”  Well, what else would it be? he’d say facetiously.  

But I questioned, and, when I started to realize there would be no answer, I said, “It’s not fair!”  It really isn’t fair, is it?  

And yet, it doesn’t escape me that none of us promised a perfect life nor does it that despite the fact that what we went through was terrible, it could have been worse.  I’m sure most people in a tragic situation want to know why it happened.  I guess it really doesn’t matter, though, because the fact is that it did happen, and things cannot be undone or changed.   If I knew why would it make me less sad; would I miss my dad less?  Maybe I would be less angry, but of course that is pure “grass is greener” thinking.

I know that I am so very lucky to have had my dad in my life for as long as I did, and I still consider him to be an important part of my life and my perspective.  But I struggle all the same, and again and again my thoughts come back to the same rejoinder: “It’s not fair!”

I used to hate it when I was a kid and I heard a grown-up say, “No one ever said life was fair.”  I always wanted to say, No kidding, but how is pointing out that something isn’t fair any different from commenting on the weather?  It is what it is, and no one said it wouldn’t be, but it kind of helps to say it out loud.  

I can’t imagine a scenario where a person would be told he is terminally ill, and think oh, yeah, well, that’s fair.  That’s ridiculous!  I am trying to come to terms with the fairness issue, the anger, and the burning in my gut, and I'm sure it would be easier if I could stop comparing and thinking about what I think should have been.  I know what I have to do, to move on past the Anger, to honor my dad:  change my perspective. His death challenged me and made me acutely aware that our paths are never certain. A traumatic loss challenges our belief system and the core of life's assumptions, and acceptance is a major hurdle when death is traumatic and/or sudden (and I do consider my dad’s to be both). Telling the story is supposed to help make sense out of the senselessness. I’m not sure that goal will ever be accomplished for me, but, just like my dad did, I plan to give it my all and then to focus on feeling lucky for what I have and have had instead of the alternative.

I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge -
That myth is more potent than history.
I believe that dreams are more powerful than facts -
That hope always triumps over experience -
That laughter is the only cure for grief.
And I believe that love is stronger than death.
 ~ Robert Fulghum