Dad was a provider.
His top priority: Taking care of his family, financially and otherwise. It was his life’s ambition, and he did it well.
He worked his at the same paper mill in Lockland, Ohio, for 22 years. In the fall of 1992, after struggling to perform at work, Dad saw a doctor. The doctor referred him to an oncologist who delivered the devastating news.
Dad had mesothelioma. He fought the disease for 13 months before succumbing to the asbestos-related disease in November 1993. I was 14 years old, and as it would be for any child, his death devastated me.
If you’ve never experienced the loss of a parent, you can’t imagine how it feels. It permeates every aspect of your life and the lives of your loved ones. It takes more than just time to heal.
The death of a family member truly changes everything. Every aspect of life becomes an adjustment.
I was more than just a little reluctant to be accepting when my mother remarried. She was lonely and found someone who made her smile again, but I just wasn’t ready. Her new husband was a good man, but I just didn’t want her to be with anyone but my dad.
I gave him a really hard time. I made myself hard to love.
Within a few years of my father’s death, I had moved more than 200 miles away and was finishing high school with kids I hadn’t grown up with. I was immersed in a new culture and new family dynamics. It wasn’t an easy transition for me.
My mom’s new husband saw through my pain and loved me anyway. Despite my diligent efforts to dislike him, I loved him too. No, he was not my father by any means; the two men couldn’t have been more different.
But he passed every test I could throw at him, and he loved me anyway.
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The more I study psychology, the more I can reflect on different aspects of my father’s experience with mesothelioma. Now, as an adult working on my second psychology degree, I understand many of the emotions he and my mother must have experienced.
I also recognize the significance of the emotions I felt. Now I understand how much counseling could have helped ease my family’s transitional periods of turmoil. But back in the 1990s, seeing a counselor was “weird,” and my mother wasn’t accepting of the idea.
Thankfully, families now don’t have to endure mesothelioma alone. There are online communities, such as The Mesothelioma Center, that host support groups to guide families in the right direction. Speaking with a counselor doesn’t carry the same stigma as before.
Counseling could have guided my mother through the loss and helped her rebuild a new life. I could have better understood what had happened to my father, and in turn, what was happening to me.
At the time, I didn’t understand mesothelioma, and I certainly hadn’t reconciled the emotions surrounding Dad’s death. I began to heal about 20 years after his death.
Studying psychology also taught me every person is different, and healing should be approached with an individualized mindset. What heals the heart of one may or may not heal the heart of another.
I hadn’t realized how therapeutic writing can be until I began writing again in college. The door to healing swung open for me two decades after my father’s death. I had buried feelings of sadness deep inside my heart, and those feelings would creep out at the most inopportune times.
I’ve found my healing in the words you are reading now. Some of the words are written with a smile on my face, while some are written with tears streaming down my cheeks. My healing truly began when I started writing about my father and our experience with mesothelioma.
The Mesothelioma Center does much more than simply matching patients with a great doctor. We all come here because we share a common thread. Whether it’s searching for information, guidance or healing, we all share a common bond. Our families have all been affected by mesothelioma.
My hope is that someone reading this can relate to my experience. It is important to know there are others out there who have experienced many of the same fears, feelings of guilt and feelings of sadness that you have.
Although I am sure we would prefer to be bonded through some other means, having a reliable community is important. Healing begins with support from family members, friends and others who are knowledgeable about mesothelioma.
I don’t think my heart will ever be as it was. Yet I have come so far, and the emptiness in my heart from my father’s death has slowly been filled with childhood memories of my father and family. I don’t think people ever overcome losing someone they love, but I know understanding and reflection has worked wonders to heal my heart.