An Open Letter to My Dying Father

Pain and loss, among other things, are natural and inevitable in this life. We can run and run all we want, but we can’t ever escape. They will always catch up to us. As someone that has an issue with emotions that leave me vulnerable, I did exactly what you would assume from someone like me. I ran. Figuratively. I liked to pretend that it wasn’t happening—that it wasn’t ever going to catch up to us if we ignored it. That was stupid of me to try to convince myself of. 

I found out about the severity of the situation a little over a year ago. You’d been sick for years at that point—things just kept piling up on top of each other. However, I didn’t expect that it would ever reach this point. Or maybe that's just what I was trying to tell myself so I could avoid that pain. Maybe both.

Stacy, my younger sister, sat beside me in the passenger seat, sobbing as people walked past my car, heading to class like nothing was wrong. “He’s really sick, Stephanie. Like, really sick.” I knew what she meant but I didn’t want to know. The crying got harder on both of our ends when she finally managed to choke out what I never wanted to hear. “Doctor told him they’re thinking two years. Two years left.” We sat in the high school parking lot, crying beside each other, finally allowing ourselves to recognize what we knew would inevitably happen. Death would come. 

Once we got out of the car that day, I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t allow myself to feel like that again. I couldn’t focus on all of the bad that just kept piling up. I wanted to celebrate you and your life. I wanted to enjoy my time with you. However, just like anyone that gets too tense and caught up in something, I cracked. I drove myself to a friend’s house whom I hadn’t talked to in months, sat on her bed, and sobbed for hours until I exhausted myself. It felt like the world was ending.

Today, a year later, everything feels different and yet the same. You crack the same jokes every time I come home. You laugh at my stupidity and make fun of reporters on TV. You love eating peanuts when you watch movies, and to you, there’s nothing better than drinking a cold beer with dinner. The difference? Bottles of pills have basically taken over one of the kitchen cabinets, spilling out if even one is misplaced. You groan when you stand or move too quickly. You walk with a bit of limp. The strength in your body has been replaced by one part pills and one part pain. 

You used to be so focused on our education. School and the traditional way of learning were your only focus for us. Now, you encourage us to go on adventures. “Life is short,” you reminded me when I brought up teaching English for a summer abroad. You’ve taught me a lot about what matters when you’re facing the end of life. Dollar amounts, the clothing we wear, and our academic and financial success do not compare to the lives we have touched and the significance we have made to others. Our character defines us and our lives. 

I can’t help but feel guilty for all of the things I’ve done and said that might have angered you—the words that I didn’t even think about when I was 12 and angry at the world, and so so angry with you. For what reason? I am not sure. I know, however, that you do not hold it against me. Just like I’ve learned to let go of anything you have done to hurt me. Through this, I have learned immense forgiveness. I’ve learned how to let go of resentments towards people. You’ve taught me so much about the world and most importantly, about myself—about who I am as a person.

I’m writing this, in part, to get it out. The pain, the confusion, and more than anything, the anger that I can’t seem to get rid of. I’m also writing in hopes that someone in a similar situation might read this and feel a bit relieved. Maybe someone out there might not feel so alone in this. 

Dad, the best I can offer to you is to say I love you. It doesn’t feel like enough to say just that. However, I’m not really sure what other words to say. You’ve done so much for me. You’ve taught me a lot about what it means to be human. I’ve learned to let out a laugh when things just get too hard. I’ve learned to be compassionate to the person who is getting the short end of the stick in a situation. Most importantly, I’ve learned that people show their true character in difficult situations. The people who you once valued so highly didn’t bat an eye when your life came crashing down. That’s on them. You, however, remind me every single time that I ask how you’re doing, “In this life, you just have to learn how to take the cards you’re dealt and make the best of it. That’s the only thing you can do if you don’t want to make yourself miserable.” 

I completely agree with you. I’m determined to face this head on with you and not make myself, or anyone else, miserable. 

I love you.