Looking back I feel that there are few things in life more piercing than receiving a diagnosis that your life is terminal. While we all know, intellectually, that our time here on this Earth is limited; we still fumble our way through it as if it were a dress rehearsal. As if today is not the only day we ever have.
I have come to intrinsically ‘live that knowing’ – there are all too few tomorrows remaining for each of us.
For some, the diagnosis is a wake-up call. It teaches them to let go and to overcome; and their lives are forever transformed. For others, it is the beginning of the end. For my Dad it was the latter. He died in August 2009 of an assortment of cancers and heart failure, his struggle: heartbreaking and nonetheless illuminating. In life he was a big man in more ways than just physical. He was the “Cowboys don’t cry” kinda guy. My father spent the majority of his adult life- in a job that didn’t support his dreams. He was a P.I. (private investigator) deeply ashamed of the “label” he hid his profession from the outside world.
He was an intensely private man; not the sort that coped well with difficult emotions or the vulnerability that such bare honesty tends to engender. To counteract his emotional fears. He chose to Hide, turning to Alcohol: beer being his drug of choice. When inebriated he could hide away – with much of his inner world remaining hidden away to the end. Outwardly, he resisted and struggled against his ‘Cancer diagnosis’ until the dis-ease overtook him and he no longer had the strength or lucidity to fight it anymore. He eventually became a shadow of his former ‘Big’ self so emaciated and feeble, unable to carry himself from his bed to the bathroom; requiring assistance to perform the most basic of bodily functions. His entire universe shrank to the size of a single room.
My Dad’s frustration was palpable, his sadness and defeat at a life gone wrong – really heartbreaking. He stayed positive as best he could; putting on a brave face for our benefit; but inside he was wrestling with some deep fears and regret. On his deathbed he whispered to me – “Sharyn, I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me, I did it wrong– I hid so much in my life- I have so many regrets.”
My father, worn down by the burdens of responsibility and routine, had not shown up for himself. He had the courage to endure and to be selfless, to provide for the needs of his family through hard times. But, alas for him, he could not find his Voice or the Courage to give his own dreams the urgent attention they so richly deserved.
And so they never happened… they died inside of him.
I like to think he found some sense of peace before the end came. He shared some of his deep regrets ,sorrows and Pearls of Wisdom with me. I can only imagine the heartbreak he must have endured. How regretful one must be at a life that promises so much and then cruelly snatches it away, and when he was gone, the thing I wept for most sorrowfully was not the loss of him, but the loss of every moment when I could have showed him more kindness or compassion or gratitude. To watch a loved one waste away is agonizing. Yet the wasting of a life and dreams is far, far worse.
Things my dad never got to do
- Wake up to a day totally free of worry and obligation
- Say what he was feeling
- Be his own man
- Indulge in his passions
- Go where the wind blew him
- Be selfish
- Watch his Daughter use her Voice
- Watch his Granddaughter become a mother
- Watch his Grandson grow into a man
If you can read this sentence, it’s not too late.
“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” Henry David Thoreau
What are you waiting for? Hiding is stressful! Stress kills!