Once upon a time, I posted a quote to Facebook:
“Perhaps watching someone you love suffer can teach you even more than suffering yourself can.” – Dodie Smith.
My point was that I figured I’d learn something from the experience of having to watch my father suffer through cancer, even if the only lesson was that sometimes bad things happen to good people. Guess what? Bad things happen to good people.
I didn’t know what to do with the phone that was cradled in my hands when I received the phone call from my Dad that night. I couldn’t do anything but sit silently, saying nothing, while he gathered his courage, swallowed hard and told me the frightening truth. My mind went numb; I remember saying “Oh My God“. I think I may have even said “that sucks“. I was suddenly unable to say anything appropriate to the situation. I didn’t know how to process the information, how to work my way through it, how to come out on the other end at a better place than where I’d started. The “oh…“s and “yes…“s and “right…“s flew out of my mouth simply to fill the void where a more normal, intelligent person might be saying “do you need anything?” or “I am so sorry” or “you’re going to get through this”.
A comment on the posted quote came from a friend a short time later…
“Yes, but it would be easier to suffer yourself.”
Is that true? It’s absolutely heartbreaking to watch someone you love and care about suffer with a disease, any illness, any pain. Would it be easier if I were the one to suffer? Would I take it on in his place if I could?
They’re easy questions to answer on the surface. Yes, I would sacrifice myself in order to spare him. But it’s only too easy to say it without actually being held accountable, since it isn’t something that can be accomplished. I would banish the shadows from under his eyes, if I could. I would wave my magic wand and all the documents and forms required by this organization and that company would be filled out and sent in in a matter of minutes, if only to spare him from weeks of labour and frustration.
I felt so… betrayed, when I found out Dad had cancer. Not by him, but by those higher powers, the ones that should know there is no possible way I could continue to exist in the world without my father. The ones who keep heaping things on me, with the constant expectation that I’ll be able to handle it, I’ll be able to cope. I was finished with it. Done trying. Done making excuses for all the bad karma, and I pushed the blame button.
There had to be a reason for this, a purpose. And of course it had to have something to do with me. I did this. I did this to him, somehow. It was my fault. I began to back out of social engagements, preferring to sit alone at home. I outright disregarded my closest friends who only wanted to offer support. I argued with my Mom, I spoke to my brother only through e-mail. I grilled my Dad about the disease: What would happen now? What kind of treatment will they give you? How will you feel through it all? When what he needed was some time to work through those questions for himself first.
Looking back, I realize how badly I handled the news. I’m not sure, if given another chance, anything would change. It’s devastating news, to the person with the illness, to the family and friends. I don’t think anyone faults me for reacting the way I did, but I can’t help but think of a saying I wrote down a few years ago and kept reminding myself of: You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it.
I wish I could have controlled my reaction more, but I hardly took the time to decipher what that reaction was, nevermind attempt to control it. You can always look back at a situation and think of ways you could have handled it better. I have to stop analyzing my actions; it doesn’t matter what I did, it matters only what I do.