Updated: Sep 17, 2020
As the year comes to an end, so many of us welcome the arrival of the new year, looking forward to new life events, adventures, and experiences. It is a beautiful thing, indeed. However, we can't forget about the reality that surrounds some who start the year hoping for better days to come ahead . . .
As each year starts to approach its end, I always like to do a mental exercise, recapping the old year’s resolutions and analyzing how hard I worked to accomplish them. Besides that, I enjoy taking a moment to think about my new goals for the upcoming year. I have to say that at this point, they have been very basic; mostly simple things, but ones that make a difference at the end of every single day.
I also can't help but to hope and pray to God that nothing unexpected and completely out of my control will head my way. I am very grateful. Life is not perfect, but when I look back at where was I was many years ago, I have absolutely nothing to complain about.
With that in mind, I thought during this first week of the year it would be a good time to share a little story with those who are currently facing major challenges in their lives, like I did. I would like to dedicate this post to my dad who was my inspiration.
In 1985, when I was only two years old, my dad became very depressed. It was only over a decade later when my mom found out why: he had been diagnosed with leukemia. As a nurse at the Fifth Air Force Regional Command Hospital and aware of the complications and phases of the disease, he wanted to try to keep it under control for as long as he could. Not knowing how many years he was going to live, he decided to keep it as a secret from his family.
His plans, however, started to fall apart when he was also diagnosed with skin cancer. I believe I was about seventeen years old when my brother brought us the news; he had found out by accident. I knew for a couple of years that there was something weird going on given the fact that my dad was constantly having “small procedures” to remove freckles from his scalp and from areas around his face, but I was clueless to what really was happening.
Since my dad was in the air force and worked at the hospital, we grew up visiting doctors at the same location; it’s where us three kids were born and the same place as, years later, Dad would pass. It was there, also, during a visit to a doctor that my brother was stopped by a childhood friend, the son of one of our dad’s friend and coworkers.
"Man, I am so sorry. I heard about your dad 's exams results."
"Oh, really?! Yes. I know... So, what have you heard?"
And that’s how he found out about our dad's prognosis. Confronted, Dad had no choice but to open up and tell us all the truth. The news hit me pretty hard. I felt lost. I was unsure of what to think or even how to feel. It was a lot of information to absorb. Looking back, I think I chose to be in denial for a while and not to accept how severe the situation was.
That's when he shared that when he found out about the leukemia many years earlier, he made the decision to keep it from us; he realized sharing this information with his small children would be a great burden to carry as we grew up. Later on, when the other cancer came along, he felt like he had to choose which one of them he would treat, but things didn’t go as he expected.
In fact, at first, he decided not to get treated at all. Knowing the side effects and what was going to happen to his body made him conclude that doing nothing would be the best option. What actually made him change his mind was the fact that his colleagues, aware of his diagnosis, weren't happy with him about his decision. One day, after arriving at the hospital for work, Dad realized none of his friends were talking to him. Frustrated, he decided to confront them about it.
"Why is no one talking to me around here?"
"Well, didn't you say you made the decision to not get treatment? So, you decided to turn your back on us. We are just doing the same to you."
What his true friends said was eye-opening for him. He realized they were right and decided to get treated, but he still hoped he could keep one of the cancers under control. However, the cancer he was the least concerned about was the one that ended up spreading. The following years went downhill. For him and all of us.
Cancer is not a one-person disease. It is something that everyone in the family (including true friends) is a part of. We don't feel the pain or the side effects of radiation or chemotherapy. We don't lose hair and our taste buds don't stop working, but we all suffer with our loved ones. We all hope. We all feel scared.
I know for a fact that for many years, he tried to not involve us and I am honestly very grateful for that. He didn’t want us to wake up every day thinking he was going to die, as he didn’t know how long he would live. And he did live way longer than he and the doctors predicted—until something new happened unexpectedly.
Those last four years fighting cancer were very harsh on him, and as a teenager, being a part of that wasn’t easy. The years passed and things only got worse until the point we learned it was only a matter of time.
Ever since I learned about my dad's cancer, Christmas and New Years have been a very sad time of year for me. First, the sense of emptiness for not having him by my side for me to open up to and help ease my pain. It would be helpful just to know there was somebody that cared for me and allowed me to be vulnerable. Apparently back then, no one did.
Second, and more importantly, there didn't really seem to be anything to celebrate about a new year coming, after all, the more time that passed, the less hope I had. Besides the cancer, my parents were growing apart more and more, which wasn’t very fun to watch as a teenager. My brothers, on the other hand, had already moved to other states. I recall an occasion when my brother was visiting, and a couple of friends and I went out to a nightclub with him to have some fun. The night ended with me sitting on a stool looking out the window, staring at a tree, sobbing, thinking about my dad dying, while they all tried to console me.
For a long moment in my life, I felt like everything was falling apart. My dad was sick, my parents couldn't get along, and my personal life sucked since apparently no guys were interested enough to seek a relationship with me, a girl that had so much crap to deal with. On the other hand, I did have a job and my dad was kind enough to pay for my college. I also had good friends. Very good friends! Amazing ones! So, for my survival, I had to learn to focus on the few but good things I had in life.
I started to realize it could be worse, but God was very good to me. I finally came to that realization one day while walking around the main building of my beloved university Unisinos. I was moving very slowly, looking down. I was very depressed. The more I looked down, the weaker I felt. I had the feeling I was about to completely drop to the ground. That moment was a turning point in my life. To avoid physically falling down, I instinctively looked up and thought:
"If I fall completely it’s going to be even harder to get up. The closer I get to the ground, the further I am from standing."
That’s when I looked around and saw the beautiful nature surrounding me. The sun was getting low. As I kept walking toward the library, my refuge at times, I had the sensation that God was talking to me.
"Look around. See the beautiful things I made for you. Your life is bigger than your problems. Your life is bigger than your problems!"
With tears rolling down my cheeks, from that moment on I decided I wasn’t going to feel like a victim of life ever again. I didn’t stop feeling sad and that doesn’t mean I never cried again, but I learned to live life to the fullest instead of focusing only on the biggest problem I currently had. And it was a real one. But there was more to my life than just it.
At that point, there wasn’t much hope for my dad, but I was blessed enough to know his time would end soon, so I appreciated his presence as much as I could. Thanks to that, I’ve learned that he loved me more than I ever imagined. I was finally able to understand why he didn’t take action when my brothers would hurt me when I was a little girl: he wanted me to learn how to take care of and fight for myself, since he didn't know how long he was going to be around to protect me. It was a hard lesson to learn that early in my life, but I was able to understand where he was coming from. He had lost his dad pretty young so he kinda knew the feeling, which broke his heart since he knew that was going to be our fate as well.
Back then, I wasn’t as spiritually evolved as I am today. I had a very hard time understanding why that was happening with my dad. But it started to change the day I went to visit him. By then, he was back living with my grandmother. He was sleeping in his childhood bedroom. The windows were shut. I walked in and sat on the edge of his bed. He was awake, but lying down. He saw me come in and sat up next to me.
"Hey, dad. How’s going?"
"You know. I have a very hard time sleeping. I barely taste when I eat... At night I’m in pain. I can’t sleep well. I know things from here on are just gonna get worse. Sometimes, like last night, I just sit up on the bed and ask God to take me."
Those were the most painful words I ever heard in my life. But probably not even close to the pain and suffering my dad was going through. Looking away from him, trying to hide the tears about to burst out of my eyes, and focusing on removing the lump from my throat so he wouldn’t notice how upset I was, I responded.
"There’s still so much for you to do here, dad."
And that was the best thing I could find to say at that moment, when in reality, I just wanted to hug him and cry, telling him I didn’t want him to die. But I had to be strong. Or rather, I had to act strong in front of him; a version of my dad that was new to me. He no longer was that guy always full of joy and ready to tell funny stories.
So, once again I left, walked home, and released my saved tears in the shower and the comfort of my bed with a pillow shoved in my face as I cried. The only difference, though, was the fact that later that night, instead of asking God “Why?” I decided to have an honest conversation with Him. So, I opened up.
"OK, God. I know that you are pretty busy and that there are all kinds of people going through way worse problems than me. I also know that I am supposed to be asking these kinds of things of angels and saints that are your assistants, but I just need to know that you are here. That you are with me. All I ask you is that you give my dad a good night’s sleep so he can have some peace, OK? Just show me you are here."
The next morning, I opened my eyes and saw it was already past 7 a.m. I got up, dressed, and rushed to my grandma’s house without even taking the time to brush my teeth. It was a short five-minute walk, but I was so eager to get there I made it even quicker. I got there, opened the front gate, and headed to his room.
I knocked on the door and I was greeted by my dad, who opened the door slowly. He seemed content. Before he managed to step out to hug me, I went ahead and asked:I knocked on the door and I was greeted by my dad, who opened the door slowly. He seemed content. Before he managed to step out to hug me, I went ahead and asked:
"Hey, dad! How was your night?"
You know what? Last night was one of the best nights I had in a very long time. I didn’t feel any pain and I just woke up once to use the restroom."
I just nodded. Without saying a single word, I turned around to hide my tears once again. In that moment, I thanked God for answering my prayer, for being a present God, for not being too busy to listen to me.
Months later, while having a conversation with my dad and hearing him tell me that he felt abandoned by God, I finally had the opportunity to share this story with him. Just like me, his eyes filled with tears, followed by silence. The silence of reflection. After that, I never heard him questioning God or His motives again. I think he also understood he wasn't alone.
My dad fought for as long as he could. He left me, but only because he went home. Now, every Christmas and Easter, I celebrate with joy because I know it’s only a matter of time until we meet again. I am in no hurry, however. I know he is doing just fine where he is, reunited with his mom, dad, and many others.
To all of you who are dealing with a similar situation, remember that every day matters. Every moment counts. Every sunrise is a new opportunity. Focus on the great things God has created just for us, on the amazing people who surround you. After all, LIFE IS WAY BIGGER THAN OUR PROBLEMS AND, GOD IS A PRESENT GOD!
I hope we all have a great year ahead of us filled with great new memories to share and moments to cherish!