There are moments in our lives that define us, that give us the opportunity to surprise ourselves, the chance to make a change and we get to decide what to do with those moments. When I was first diagnosed, I froze, I didn’t know what I would do or how I could possibly move forward. I’m now thirty-three years old with two baby girls that need a dad and I’ve just been told I have a few years to live. It was a sunny March afternoon and I’ll never forget sitting there with Rach as the doctor told us over the phone that I have stage IV cancer and its terminal. Everything froze and each precious moment of my life sped through my head and flashed before my eyes. I watched the light dim in Rachels eyes as the darkness of our new reality set in. The days that followed are a hazy blur of crying and holding each other. I could easily have stayed in that mental space, buried my head in her shoulder and let the tears flow forever but life had other plans for me. My attention was needed elsewhere, I didn’t get to bury my head in the sand and dwell on my news, I had things to take care of, I had to protect my dads legacy from clawing hands. On the heels of my tragedy and still recovering from brain surgery, I was thrown into a legal battle with my dads wife that kept me so preoccupied that I didn’t even have time to process my own life. In the moment, I hated that she was forcing my attention away from myself, I hated her for putting me through this even more so because she knew very well the hand I’d just been dealt and knew that I was still reeling from losing my dad. My hate had no bounds in those months but looking back on it, I see now that it was an opportunity. It gave me a necessary distraction from this horrific news, it allowed me to unfreeze and keep moving forward. It gave my brain the time and space to process the news in the background and months later when things finally settled down and I had the opportunity to look inward and reflect, I found that I wasn’t as frozen anymore, I was only driven to live more, love more and do all of what I’ve been preaching over the last year. I honestly don’t know that I would be in the same mental space if it weren’t for that horrible distraction but I can say I’m grateful for it now because I have more clarity, I have more honesty and I have more perspective. I could have stepped back and claimed incapacity to deal with a lawsuit at that time but I made the decision to accept the role of trustee and executor of my dads will. It didn’t feel like a choice I made at the time, it felt like a choice that was made for me and I’m glad it was.
Its been a year now since my dad passed away and there are times where I feel like I still haven’t processed his loss as well as I would like to, its been almost a year since I was diagnosed and I feel like I still haven’t processed my diagnosis as well as I would like to, but I’m trying. Every day I try to be a little more compassionate, a little more kind and to love a little harder. I know that at any time the cancer could spread back to my brain or somewhere else in my body and end my life very quickly if it wanted to, but I’ve been given another glorious year here with my girls and my Rachel. I wake up every day and I choose gratitude when I could so easily choose anger, anger at life, at people who take it for granted, anger at my dads wife, anger at a million things, but theres enough of that already. I wake up every day and choose compassion, I steady myself in the face of my two year olds tantrum and force myself to see from her eyes. I step back when I see an angry person yelling at the barista in Starbucks that their drink isn’t right and force myself to wonder if they’re okay instead of being upset with them. I wonder if any of us are okay, I walk around and see a million other people who are all going through something unspoken and unseen just like me and I try to feel for them. I think about my dad every day and feel so sad that he didn’t have the support system around him that I do, I hold his necklace in my hand and wish that things could have been different. He was all but abandoned save for a few select people and it breaks my heart every day to know how alone and scared he must have felt.
This was supposed to be a post for him, to honour his one year since passing but thats silly isn’t it, every day that I look at a picture of him or imitate his voice or clutch at his necklace and speak to him, is honouring him, it’s perpetuating his legacy in the best way I know how. And so is every time I smile at a stranger or extend my hand in kindness, I honour him every time I say “here we are” or see a cool car and think “dad would’ve loved that”. I think doing all of this helps me process these traumas in a beautiful way because by being kind and compassionate towards others, I’m being kind and compassionate to myself. On days that are hard for me, if I fail to remind myself, I know without a doubt I always have Rach to remind me that I’m still here and I have living to do. On days where I miss my dad a lot, I’ll rewatch the video I made for him just to hear his voice and I’ll cry and I’ll laugh as I watch it because it brings me a little closer to being okay with everything.
I was speaking to someone recently who enlightened me to the fact that a testimony given by a dying person holds more weight in court than it would if the person wasn’t dying. This struck me for a second but he explained that someone whose dying has less reason to lie than someone who isn’t, he pointed out that my little letters may seem repetitive and monotonous to me sometimes but they hold great weight to the people reading them and there’s a responsibility in that. I hadn’t thought of this before because to me these letters are just a way for me to get my thoughts out and clear my head. Most of the time when I’m writing these, I start with an idea of what I want to say and then it just evolves from there and I learn as I go, often having epiphanies as I go. The universe must have heard our conversation because later that day I got a multitude of messages from people I’d never met before telling me how my writing has helped them through a difficult time in their lives. I didn’t ask for this and I wish it had never come to me but I’m grateful it did because if what I’m putting out there is helping anyone in any way then I’m glad it’s me thats going through this. By no means will I let this epiphany change what I write or how I write it, these letters remain as a diary of my journey, an expression of my emotions and most importantly as love letters to my wife and children. When I’m laying In the CT or MRI machines getting my scans or sitting in the chair getting my infusion, its their faces that I picture as I close my eyes pray for good results, its their faces that give me the courage to get poked with that needle and injected with poison all in the hopes that I can spend just a few more days with them. It’s in those moments between the seconds that I understand how truly precious my life is and has been, how gifted and lucky I’ve been to have what I have. And in the same way that I hated my dads wife for what she put me through, I hate this cancer but I’m also grateful for it because it has let me see beauty for what it really is.
It’s not the symmetry of someones face or the colour of their eyes, its the kindness in their smile, its the sun shining through the leaves, its turning your pillow to the cool side or putting on a fresh pair of socks, its laying in the crib with your child even though you’re tired and it hurts to fold yourself up so you fit. Those are the things that I find most beautiful about life right now. I didn’t know how this would define me and I still don’t but I’m trying to take the opportunity to be the change I want to see. I’m trying to surprise myself.