“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” – Pema Chödrön
My dad has cancer. There, I said it. He doesn’t just have some small, localized, fixable cancer. He has the kind that spread all over his internal organs, insidiously invading his whole body. There are tumors hanging on his insides like ripe fruit on a tree, but this fruit can’t be picked. There’s no way to operate and remove his cancer. It dangles, tauntingly, putrefying on the branch, destroying everything it touches.
So we have begun a waiting game. He, waiting for the inevitable reunion with my mother, my sister Maureen and his next adventure in a place unknown to us. Me and my sister Kat, waiting for the inevitability of losing a man whose presence has always been steady and unfailing.
The writer Jane Green, in her book The Beach House, said, “Nothing in this world happens without a reason. That we are all exactly where we are supposed to be, and then the pieces of the puzzle have a tendency to come together when you least expect it.”
There is truth here. Decisions made by a family member living close to my father, the breakdown of my marriage, the independence of my daughter, a contractual obligation that I move out of my apartment by the end of June, are all pieces of my puzzle that, when completed, reveal a perfectly clear picture of what I need to do in response to my father’s diagnosis. I will be moving to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the duration of his illness, which according to the doctors is expected to be between three weeks and three months. I will be vacating my apartment, putting my belongings in storage, and hitting the road with only the desire to make my father’s last weeks on this earth joy filled and loving.
This was a remarkably easy decision to make. There is, despite my poor skills at keeping in touch, nothing more important to me than my family and friends. I routinely forget to send birthday cards, frequently forget to update my family on changes in my life, and don’t have the best track record for staying in touch. However, that just means I’m a poor communicator, not that I love any of them with any less than my full heart.
It is my hope that this blog will afford me an outlet. It is a chance to chronicle my father’s journey as well as my own journey toward becoming a more whole, compassionate human being. I would like to talk about the lessons I learn, the things my father teaches me, and small moments of each day. I would like to share the joyful and loving moments, and the moments of heartbreak as well. I will share his humor, his stories, and reveal the lion among men that he is. My father has lived an extraordinary life, one that is part of a lineage that has its roots in Ireland’s County Roscommon. I am honored to have the opportunity to share the end of his life with him.
This is going to be a fairly raw journey, to pretend otherwise would be to lie. I have to remember, however, that there is still much joy to be had in my father’s life. There is still much living to be done, and so I will help his failing body accomplish what his strong soul still reaches for… And Life goes on.
“Before us great Death stands
Our fate held close within his quiet hands.
When with proud joy we lift Life’s red wine
To drink deep of the mystic shining cup
And ecstasy through all our being leaps—
Death bows his head and weeps.”
-Rainer Maria Rilke