I remember getting alot of adult attention after my father’s death. A steady stream of people flowed through our family home bearing food and gifts to cheer us up. I guess it worked because I cannot remember being a grief stricken child. At school my art design was chosen for the Christmas card competition (and it wasn’t very good!). I was given leading roles at my ballet school and my teachers were nice, caring and generally overcompensating especially around the father’s day celebrations. I was never given a real opportunity to grieve the loss because everyone around me always wanted to make me happy.
The earliest recollection of my father being sick was visiting him in hospital. I remember that visit because I buried my head in his overnight bag so I didn’t have to watch the nurse change his drip. He thought it was extremely funny, although my fear of needles lasted for the next 27 years! One day I sat on his knee and looked him right in the eyes. ‘Dad’ I asked, “Are you going to die?’ My father had been diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer. How do you tell a 6 year old the truth without breaking her little heart, so of course my Dad lied ‘No Princess, I’m not going to die’. When he passed in 1978 at the age of 36, I was 6 years old and my little baby brother was 4.
The magic in life just seemed to slowly disappear. Quite suddenly as everyone got back to their own lives things got hard. I not only lost my Dad that day, I lost a part of my mum as well. As I grew older I became angry and resentful that my father had not only died but lied. I was never able to let go of the hurt although my adult logic knew why he done what he had done. I guess you can never really appreciate what someone is experiencing until you experience it yourself.
When I was 39 years old with young children of my own I was diagnosed with stage 3 stomach cancer. The frightened little girl, who stuck her head in the overnight bag resurfaced. I was given an opportunity to see my father’s diagnosis through my own eyes and I was finally able to grieve the loss of my father. I would look into my babies eyes at night and feel the overwhelming sadness and heartache my father must have felt knowing he was not going to see us grow up. I cherished every moment with my family, not knowing if I was heading into the same terminal diagnosis. The time I was able to sit on the floor and play with my boys became ever so precious. My husband became my career, my strength and support. He took over the running of the house to the organizing of everyone’s life. I only had one job, to get myself well so I could give my boys the opportunity to have what I never had growing up, two parents. My surgery was successful and after months of chemo, radiation and healing I was given a second chance at life.
Four years after my surgery and 37 years of my father resting up at the crematorium my mother decided it was time to scatter his ashes. I think we all would love one more day with a loved one that has passed and I feel so blessed at having had the opportunity. Even though I always know he is with me in spirit, I had a physical connection and something to hold onto for one more day. His urn lay next to me while I watched TV, I held him in my bed and cried. I told him how much I love and missed him, and he spent his last physical night watching over me from my bedside table. I got to hold him in my hands again as my mum and I scattered his ashes in the sea and I now keep his plaque in my garden. I felt life come full circle and I was finally able to put some closure on the funeral I did not attend as a child.
My experience with cancer allowed me to open up and release the part of me that needed to let go. I still feel sadness even while I re-read this blog. I don’t think that will ever go away but the anger and the sense of being robbed of my childhood no longer has a place in my heart.
Stomach Cancer Survivor