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This past year has been replete with indelible memories for me; there have been moments that have temporarily frozen my consciousness, and times that have called for deep introspection, all stemming from my father’s unexpected battle with a malignant brain tumor. As the youngest in my family, I have never faced the burden of aging grandparents or relatives of any kind, for the elder members of my family had already passed away before I was cognizant of their deaths. I feel immensely fortunate that my life thus far has been free from marked adversity. The sensation of helplessness that accompanies incurable disease and the unprecedented awareness of time passing too quickly were, until recently, altogether novel feelings for me. Once I first heard of his diagnosis, I internally separated my father from all quotidian endeavors. The late nights at the hospital, the painful attempts to communicate with an unresponsive man, and the chills that ran up my spine every time the phone rang, were all surreal, and seemed to be part of someone else’s experience. In this manner, it was naturally easy for me to carry on with my normal life at school, for my dad was simply away on business, I told myself, and would return one day as the vibrant father I had always known. Only recently have I abandoned this foolish method of coping.
Days and even moments before my dad’s palliative brain surgery, I was immobilized by my own trepidation, a sensation that led to unnecessary awkwardness between us and thwarted all meaningful communication. Stuck in this sphere of inaction, I waited alone in the corner of the hospital, unwilling to let my dad go under the knife and anesthesia without speaking to him, potentially for the last time. I approached his stretcher, and before I could put my feelings to words, my dad said to me, in the raspy voice of a sick man, “I love you, and I’m so proud of you, Cam.” The immediate impact of those first three, often hackneyed, words was profound, simply because I could not remember that last time I had heard those words from my father. My dad expresses his love with an infectious smile or a tickling shoulder rub or a lesson on how to fix a stubborn lawn mower. I never knew him to verbalize his emotions; under the circumstances, his endearment was doubly reassuring.
Despite repeated medical complications, my father has made great strides in his convalescence, although he is frequently dazed and seems unaware of his proximity to death. While he will continue chemotherapy until the tumor takes his life, he is lucid enough to remind me to do my homework and clean my room. The two of us have come to a mutual agreement as his time to dote on me fades away; he will do his best to impart to me whatever he feels important, if I promise to take the time to listen, not just nod my head as my ears perfunctorily take in his endless admonitions, but to sincerely listen and absorb what he is really saying. As a result, the last few months have been marked by the reenactments of things that my dad has always enjoyed saying with conviction: “Enunciate! No one will understand you if you don’t speak clearly!” and “Be productive!” and new to the list, “Drive slowly!” Yet the fact is that his reminders are seemingly pointless, for I am already made in the mold of my father. Like him, I would rather paint a house than dally at the beach. We share the qualities of a perfectionist, an obsession with getting things done, and a proclivity to conspicuously voice our opinions.
I have been blessed to be reminded of the cyclical nature of family relationships, for, inevitably, it is the children who tend to their parents after years of being tended to. As much as I try to avoid this daunting responsibility on a daily basis, I am comforted and inspired by the steadfastness with which my dad faces his uphill battle. Before, I managed this burden by not dealing with it; now, encouraged by his candid words, I deal with this challenge directly, and that has made all the difference in our relationship and my wellbeing.
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