I had an awkward and tearful moment when I was first asked about my father shortly after his death from mesothelioma in 1993.
Those who knew me were aware it was just too tender a subject to discuss.
The story of my experience dealing with the death of my father is a lonely one. Back then, at least in my family, seeking counseling was out of the question because it carried a negative stigma. My mother didn’t see how necessary counseling was for me to handle everything on my plate.
Teenage years are tough enough to experience, but throw in the death of a parent, and you’ll likely have some issues best addressed by a professional. I don’t fault my mother. She just wasn’t aware of my needs. After all, she’s the one who nursed her husband of 22 years until he died.
Starting a New Life
After my father’s death, we moved 212 miles away to have a new start. I was in 10th grade, and did not fit well with my surroundings.
I was an outsider to my peers. They had attended school together since kindergarten. I felt awkward as I walked into my first class. I strolled in a few minutes late, and my mature high heels and purple dress didn’t boost my confidence. I was out of place; I was dressed differently than others, and my northern accent didn’t help either.
When the teacher asked me to introduce myself to the class, I nervously stood and sheepishly announced my name. His response: “You’re not from around here are you?” I felt welcomed, but before I could sit down again, he asked, “Who is your dad?”
I bit the big one right in front of an entire classroom of strangers. Tears filled my eyes and streamed down my cheeks before I could catch them. It had been nine months since I watched my daddy’s casket lowered into the ground, and I was not ready to answer such a question publicly.
Picking Up the Pieces of Your Life
So how do you start to pick up pieces of your life when you lose someone so close?
I secluded myself in my bedroom and shut down. Sometimes I would go days without eating or sleeping. I was depressed, and oddly enough, I was angry. I was angry that my life was such a mess. I was angry that we had to move. I was angry that my mother wasn’t acting like a mother anymore. I was so mad.
It takes courage to admit it, but I was even mad at my dad for dying. He left me before I was ready to let go.
Forging Relationships with New Friends
It was late 1994 before I had opened myself enough to my peers to acknowledge any of them as my friends.
The relationships and activities I forged with my new friends helped me stagger out of the darkness. I kept busy with school work and that also kept my mind off my father’s death. I worked at making a life for myself and my mother. She was picking up her own pieces and helping her made me feel good, too.
The following spring, I took over some of the jobs my dad would have done such as taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn and painting the rooms of our new house. I was beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel. It just took me a while to find it.
Passing My Dad’s Stories to My Children
I am now 36, and I wish that I could tell you that I am all better now.
I still miss my dad. Sometimes, I still cry. I continue to face awkward moments where I have to hold back the tears, and there are moments when I can’t hold them back.
I remember the first time one of my children asked me about my dad. I cried a lot that day. Now, I find joy in telling stories about their Papaw Rick. They hang on my every word, and it truly touches my heart to hear them speak his name.
At times, they will remind each other about the stories I’ve told them. Sometimes, when we eat dinner, my daughter will tell her brother, “This was Papaw Rick’s favorite!”
Advice to Others Walking the Path of Cancer
Experiencing the death of a loved one is not an easy road to travel. However, it is inevitable for us all.
Support groups are available for people who are traveling the same road as you. Talk to someone who can understand your feelings and emotions. Someone who can help you find the pieces of your life scattered by this disease.
I still pray for breakthroughs in treatments and for finding a cure for mesothelioma. I pray that one day asbestos will be something of our distant past. Until then, we are all bonded through
the diagnoses, prognoses and treatments of this disease. Whether you or someone you love is diagnosed, remember there is always hope.