Yesterday (April 4th) marked 15 years since I lost my Dad to cancer. While going through some tough stuff lately, he’s been on my mind quite a bit. It’s strange to me how some years I seem to sail right through and barely think about it, while other years feel like the anniversary of his death just hangs over my head like a big cloud of gloom. While there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t miss him, sometimes when life gets especially hard his absence is felt even more.
He passed away when I was 13 years old, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with. It was quick and terrifying to witness (he was diagnosed in January of 1998 and passed away in April). It was the very first funeral I had ever attended. Not only was I completely devastated and shocked, but I also experienced a new frightening level of being pissed off (at the world, at God, you name it) that I had never felt before. And I was also left with an abundance of paralyzing fear–the bliss of being a typical teenage girl whose biggest concerns were shopping, friends, and boys quickly went bye-bye and so many scary questions remained. How on earth does someone who was previously so healthy just one day out of the blue end up with terminal cancer? How can someone be ripped away from you so quickly? What if this happens again to someone else I love (or me)? One of my biggest, scariest nightmares had just come true, and my world had just been turned upside down. I was paralyzed. I constantly felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. And, if we’re being honest, I’ve carried that fear with me into adulthood.
Any minor health concern sends me into a panic–even a simple headache or achy muscle often prompts that thought in my head–what if it’s cancer? And the idea of losing anyone else I love literally sends me into a crazy panic-fest. Cancer, and all the shittyness associated with it, is like my very own terrifying Jabberwocky from my childhood (alright, so that’s the scariest thing that just popped into my head. Have you seen the Alice in Wonderland TV movie from the 80′s?? if you haven’t, I recommend watching this clip to see what I’m talking about. There’s also a scene where the White Queen turns into a goat that is equally terrifying…but that’s a whole other story).
I realize this is probably kind of a heavy topic for a blog focused on cupcakes, wedding planning, and general sparkly fabulousness. But it’s something that has been weighing on me and I thought it would make a good personal post–maybe even someone out there who is dealing (or has dealt) with grief will relate and know that they aren’t alone…and I have a point, I swear.
I don’t consider myself a super-religious or even a very spiritual person. While there are certain things I really really want to believe in (and part of me certainly does), sometimes it’s hard to dig them up from my layers of bitterness and doubt. But I find myself constantly searching for signs–sometimes I miss my Dad so much that I just end up feeling desperate for some indication that he’s still with me. My mom has said for years that she feels his presence, but I always have my doubts. Why don’t I get signs like that? I often wonder. I always find a way to explain things away, though deep down I fiercely want to grasp onto those little signs for dear life. I so badly want that reassurance that he hasn’t disappeared. Well, I recently got my sign.
Wednesday night (the 3rd), I felt the anniversary looming. I’ve been a bit down and out lately anyway (you can catch up on that here if you’d like), but I definitely felt that familiar lethargic bit of sadness that often creeps up and tries to drag me down with it. I lied awake in bed until around 2:30 in the morning, screwing around on Pinterest and playing Sugar Crush on my phone in an attempt to get my brain to settle down (on a side note, I recommend not downloading that game if you value your sanity. It is addictive!) I finally fell asleep, and I ended up having the most meaningful (and weird) dream I’ve had in years. Here’s the thing–though I was very close to my Dad, over the many years of living without him, he’s become a kind of blurry version of himself in my head. While I try to focus on remembering him happy and healthy, it’s hard not to let my mind slip and picture him as I last saw him in the grips of the big bad C word–sick, frighteningly skinny, darkened sunken-in skin, and limping in pain. As much as I’d love to forget those images forever, they’ve been permanently etched into my brain. Any dreams I’ve ever had about him after his passing have always reflected those images, and left me feeling uneasy and fearful. But that night, I finally dreamt of him the way he always was before all of that.
The first part of my dream began in a new fancy apartment (ironic, since I’ve been bitching lately about my messy apartment and how I want a bigger one). Then it switched. We (my Dad, my brother, and me) were riding bikes in a park. It was a beautiful sunny day. My Dad was grinning from ear to ear and laughing. He stretched out his arm and gave us a little wave as he rode past us. The sun lit up his face and he glowed. His mischievous eyes sparkled. There wasn’t an ounce of Scary Cancer in sight. Just my wonderful, healthy Dad, being his old, goofy self. Then, the dream switched back to the new apartment. I was in my bedroom, and I found a necklace sitting on my nightstand with a note. And here’s the heartstring-yanking part: it said “I will always be there for my kids.”
I woke up at about 5 AM with those words echoing in my head. And of course, being the ridiculously emotional person I am, I burst into tears. I sobbed like a crazy person (I’m a little grateful my husband was in the shower at that time and saved himself from witnessing the hysterics). I felt overwhelmed–while I missed him and was sad, I was elated to have finally gotten to see him as I wanted to remember him. To me, it was proof that he is still there when I need him the most. It was proof that the cancer, as horrific as it was, couldn’t destroy him if it tried. He’s still there, as his old self, checking in on us from time to time.
And in the midst of everything going on with me lately, sitting up in bed in the dark bawling like a nutcase, I suddenly felt overwhelmingly grateful. To be alive. For my husband, and the annoyingly cluttered apartment we live in. For the family and friends who have offered their support while I’ve been experiencing one of the crappiest bouts of depression I’ve had in years.
And for finally getting my sign.