Last week, I was a guest on the Dr. D. Ivan Young radio show to talk about my book, Gracefully Gone. My co-guest Dianne Gray and I also discussed the concept of moving on, moving forward, hell, simply just moving after suffering the loss of a loved one.
Dr. Young asked me a question that struck me dumb momentarily, and after the show was over, struck me speechless and almost afraid, as I choked back tears trying to understand the impact of his question. He asked me what it was like for me when my father was diagnosed with brain cancer when I was twelve years old and how did my life change because of that moment. In and of itself, this question is an innocuous one, a polite one. The spirit in which it was asked was one of curiosity, hope and perhaps in education for his listeners worldwide. But to me, this question was like lightning to my soul.
He asked me. Not my mother, not my brother, but me. I didn’t know how to answer him. I knew the logistics of what had changed when my dad was diagnosed. I recalled my father’s words… “I have something in my brain that should not be there and I have to go the hospital and have the doctors remove it.” I recall walking from our dinner table, where all things from sports to pre-teenage sexuality were discussed over our meal, into our family’s library, knowing all had changed. We had in five minutes, added cancer, hospitals, medications, dying and death to the ala carte menu of dinner conversation. We considerably upped the ante on dinner talk.
I knew all of this and I told Dr. Young so. I verbally painted the picture of me the day after “All Had Changed” in school. I no longer cared about clothes, boys, lip gloss or any of the bullshit of teenage girldom I used to care about the day before all had changed. What I didn’t say, what I could not say, was that I wrote my book Gracefully Gone in answer to that very question…the one, no one had ever asked me.
Not my mother, not my brother, nor my grandparents, not the aunts and uncles or cousins or friends or the parents of my friends, not one flipping person ever asked me what I felt, what my life felt like, when my father was diagnosed with brain cancer and my life utterly changed.
I do not say this in retribution. I do not say this to pity myself. I say this merely because up until this moment, this moment of “The Question”…I had only answered silently, in words on black and white in a page of a book I wrote over twenty–two years, cloaked in story and quip, but never aloud.
So…YOU WANNA KNOW HOW I FELT WHEN MY DADDY WAS TAKEN FROM ME!!! I FELT EMPTY, SCARED, CONFUSED, ABANDONED and FUCKING ANGRY! THAT’S HOW I FELT. I WANTED TO DIE WITH HIM. I WANTED TO CRAWL INTO A HOLE AND NEVER COME OUT! BUT MOST OF ALL I WANTED SOMEONE to sit with me, quietly and let me feel.
Twenty-two years later, that is exactly what happened when I hung up the phone with Dr. Young’s radio program. My new friend and co-guest, Dianne called me after the show to rehash, regroup, reshow the show and I asked the question aloud to her, to myself. I choked on my tears as Dianne, quickly becoming an old and dear friend, a woman profoundly aware of my condition as she herself had suffered the unspeakable loss of her son, with ear to her receiver sat there quietly, listening to me, to my tear soaked silence and let me simply feel.
She just simply let me feel.
No words were spoken, for they were superfluous, ugly almost.
SHE JUST LET ME FEEL.
In those few moments, I answered the question deep within me. The moment of my father’s viscerally fearful confession, the girl I once was, became at twelve a woman who is no resemblance to the woman I am now. She was tired and frightened and confused and alone. Everything I knew before that night, disappeared from my view and a new life that revolved solely around my father’s disease was born. I had a new knowledge: A knowledge of the fragility of life, of the loss of childhood, the loss of parental heroism; the knowledge of the complete and utter breath of love, of God and of this; and this is no small thing; THE LOVE OF MYSELF.
I am a child of loss, a child of trauma. In that moment, in the answer, I learned, all these years later, with Dianne in her respectful silence, reaffirmed that I would be ok. I AM OK.
To quote one of my favorite authors May Sarton: “All, all is utterly changed. A terrible beauty is born.”
I AM OK. And, albeit terrible, this new knowledge is beautiful.
I AM OK.