Sometime last July my dad’s elder brother took ill suddenly. That night was almost serendipitous – my cousins and I had gathered for dinner, a once-a-year occasion. We’d been tasked with checking in on our uncle to make sure he’s doing okay, as our aunts were in Malaysia.
He didn’t pick up the phone when one of us rang, and so we cut short our meal and bundled ourselves into an Uber.
“Ask your dad to meet us there,” one of my cousins asked.
“Already did,” I said.
When we arrived, my uncle looked ashen and was out of breath. As it turned out, he had a bad case of the runs and hadn’t eaten or drunk anything all day. Dad (or Papade, as I affectionately call him) helped carry his brother to the bathroom. He huffed and puffed, and I remember thinking I’d never seen him pant after physical activity. I made a mental note to spend more time with him, as he was already nearly 70.
Looking back, I kick myself for not asking him to go see a doctor, or to bring forward his medical check-up. I wish I’d said something, but as always, hindsight is 20/20 and nothing will change the very fact that he now suffers from a terminal illness.
Papade is deeply private and would hate that I’m blogging about this, so I won’t describe his illness in detail. But suffice it to say that it’s shaken the foundations of my family, which has very shaky foundations to begin with, and that nothing will ever be the same from this point.
I’m forced to confront the fact that I may lose my dad in a year or so, and suddenly the phrase the best is yet to come really means the worst is yet to come. I’ve drawn up worst-case scenarios in my head, and some nights I don’t dare to go to sleep because I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
And yet, nothing hits harder than reality. Doctor’s appointments. Applying for Family Care Leave. Housing changes. Not being able to focus at work, and feeling guilty about it.
I’m tempted to shop and eat the grief away, but I can’t bring myself to enjoy my food or spend a ridiculous amount of money on clothes, because there are things to plan and a home to save for (story for another time).
But in all honesty I know these are quick fixes that will barely scratch the surface. The real remedy is to talk about the pain, let people love me, and in turn emerge from the darkness when I am ready.
This pendulum confuses me. Some days I wake up okay and ready to face the world, and other days the process takes an extra two hours (it involves going back to sleep, being in denial, and then waking up to head to a job I actually love). I feel extremely guilty that I am not my best self nowadays, that people constantly ask if I am okay (not really, but I’m not terrible either), when really my dad and mum are the ones who are hurting most.
But I also understand that I am learning to build strong roots, like my parents taught me. Where they said to brush away the tears, I’m going to let them flow freely – and pick myself up when I find myself in a pit. And when I can’t, I’ll take a risk and let people climb in with me – just for a little while – before pulling me back out into the light.
Perhaps the biggest miracle of all in this short period of time is a stability that I cannot explain. I’m thinking this is what the Bible describes as “peace that surpasses all understanding”, because by all accounts I am unable to understand this thing that I feel.
Old me would be crying my eyes out every other night or posting sad song lyrics on Facebook, but instead I’m left thinking about how to love my family (and sometimes myself) better, because the road we’re now left on is going to be a long one. On nights where I am unable to pray, I close my eyes and manage to fall asleep. It may be fitful, but any sleep at all is good at this stage – it sure beats being an insomniac and imagining the worst.
(The Bible also says God gives sleeps to those whom He loves – look it up in Psalm 127:2!)
When we first found out about dad’s diagnosis, the first question that left mum’s lips was: “Why?”
And it’s true – he’s otherwise a healthy 69-year-old who can outrun me any day. He barely eats red meat, doesn’t drink or smoke, and is one of the smartest people I know.
But deep down I knew that the why doesn’t matter. Not now, and maybe not ever. I work in the news – I already know bad things happen to good people. And because of my beliefs, it doesn’t mean God isn’t good – it just means we don’t understand how all of this fits into this grand plan that’s already been mapped out.
Yes, it may sound cruel to put tragedy and goodness together. But I also believe that sometimes goodness is forged in the darkness, that we are forced to confront the knots in our lives that we’ve almost forgotten. And maybe it is in these seasons that we learn to let go of the stuff we’ve been holding on to for far too long, and hold onto the things we’ve let slip through our fingers.
Dad’s in the habit of taking photos of me nowadays – he never used to be on his phone whenever we went out together. But I guess it’s him trying to document each day, while he’s still around, and I oblige – even if it’s an unglamorous picture of me eating noodles.
He’s also sent me old photos like this one (I look like a bird, though the other half disagrees – he thinks I’m adorable).
I guess it’s a function of grappling with mortality. We all know we will die, yet live like we’ll be around forever.
It’s only when we’re given an expiry date do we wake up to the reality that we’re perhaps living on borrowed time.
I’m honestly really hashtag blessed (yeah I know, just had to spell it out, ha) to have friends and loved ones who constantly check in, who ask me to not be so hard on myself, who lift me up when I’m having a bad day. The better half – who is a lot more optimistic than I am, guess it’s true when they say opposites attract – never fails to make me laugh, or at least crack a smile. He, along with my little army of friends who pray, remind me that there is joy to be found even in the most difficult of situations.
The road is long, and it’s just beginning. And this is such a cliche, but I do exhort you to hug your parents a little tighter, even if they push you away. You really don’t know how much time you have left with them.
In the meantime, I’m still trying to find a balance between normalcy and knowing that life will never be the same.
But my declaration at the end of 2017 stands – I hope to choose love over fear, and to always believe that love triumphs anything life could throw at us.
Much love. x