One day the entire family is celebrating his 70th birthday, and less than a month later, the entire family is grieving over his cancer diagnosis.
Grieving and — truth be told — very much feeling lost. Even three months later.
See, my dad is the patriarch of the family, literally the pater familias. A Navy veteran of 25 years, a high-ranking federal employee of the Navy for over 20 years, the main problem solver at his job and at home — he’s always been the strong one, the stable one, the active one: the provider and protector of the family.
Now that that provider and protector is in forced medical retirement, having to depend on his 64-year old wife and grown kids for his literal and figurative life support, it’s been depressing the living crap out of my dad.
He’s always been a workaholic, doing strenuous work even on his off-days, working on extensive home and garden improvements. He liked travelling, working out, eating out, cooking sumptuous meals, laughing, and resolving conflicts. He liked trying new things. He liked helping people.
My dad has always been fiercely independent and fiercely positive about his and the family’s future.
A prognosis of two years unless he has a liver transplant is a three-ton weight squashing the future into a six-foot rectangular box.
And it sucks.
I’ve been going to my parents’ house more times these past three months than I’ve been in years. That’s sad, come to think of it, but it is what it is. My soon-to-be six-year-old son is learning traditional Filipino customs, like doing mano po. He’s building memories of his lolo and lola.
It’s surreal seeing my brother (who’s five years younger than I am) taking on the mantle of the patriarch and finding it an uncomfortable and unfamiliar fit. It’s surreal seeing my mom and sisters trying to figure out home-care for my dad — my mom and sisters also feeling uncomfortable and unfamiliar in their new roles.
Extended family from out-of-state that I hadn’t seen in years (just this past weekend I saw an uncle and auntie on my mom’s side that I hadn’t seen since I was 12) have visited my parents’ home.
As a single mom of an ADHD kid, my role has been limited — mostly as the go-to person when my mom or my brother needs me to research some purported dietary miracle cancer cure. For Father’s Day, I gave my dad a card, an Ecosphere, and a back-and-neck massage. Not much — not like I could wave a magic wand and make his cancer go away — but it was something.
My dad’s slowly but surely recuperating from the March surgery where the good doctor opened him up like a piece of livestock, assessed the three huge tumors in my dad’s shriveled, cirrhotic liver (too much rich, red meat, too much happy eating and living like there’s no tomorrow, one can surmise — and/or just bad genes), and closed him back up, leaving ugly, Frankenstein-like scar lines today.
In spite of all this, he is philosophic, and even laughed this past weekend, surrounded by family. He even showed some tai-chi moves to my younger sister, as a suggestion on how to relieve stress.
Like his usual self.
My dad has cancer. The cancer is not my dad. We’re all still learning how to live with this, this cancer in the family.
The prognosis is two years, but who knows?
Who really ever knows when our time comes until it comes?
this is horse stance. And this is brush knee to single whip. And this is sparrow’s tail to white crane spreads wings.
And breathe. Always remember to breathe.