I turned 38 this week. I honestly feel ambivalent about birthdays. I certainly don’t want to do the dishes or anything, but I don’t need a fancy party either- until I turn 40, then watch the F out! My father’s death this year has drawn a veil over pretty much every significant event. His absence in the stream of birthday phone calls on my daughter’s birthday was painfully obvious and I knew that void would not be filled on my “special day” either.
As a parent, my children’s birthdays feel more significant than my own. Their birthdays were specific days that my life changed forever and watching their progression year after year is so beautiful and monumental but also fleeting and cursory that the emotions invoked are over-powering. My parents divorced when I was a teenager, but my mom told me that she and my dad always connected on my sisters’ and my birthdays. I’d never thought of this before, but of course, it makes perfect sense. If children are like pieces of your heart walking around outside your body, then children are really made up of all of these little chunks of love. And if love is what connects us, then parents of children (bio, adopted, foster, step) will always be connected by those children- regardless of the status of relationship.
I spent the last few hours of my birthday sobbing uncontrollably because of the deep, dark chasm left by the loss of my dad.
These moments have decreased since my dad first died in June, however when the wave of grief hits, it’s swift and unavoidable and I am reminded that the power of this ocean is stronger than any human being. As humans, we have the agency to decide if we are going to fight against the current of the ocean or allow ourselves to be carried through the waves. This is hard for me because I hate crying in front of people, but if I don’t allow myself to move through the emotion, it doesn’t go anywhere. Humans need emotional outlets.
When I first started working with my Chinese Medicine Practitioner, she said that there was dampness mixed with heat causing phlegm in my liver/gallbladder area. This phlegm can be caused by Liver Qi Stagnation which is emotional stagnation. She said that all emotions, but especially anger, are stored in the liver if not properly moved. So, I’ve been working on moving my emotions and searching for anger outlets. Allowing each emotion it’s space and expression before moving on. I’m letting myself be carried through the waves on this powerful em-ocean (see what I did there?)
So that sobbing on my birthday? That was okay. That was normal and healthy.
Even though it’s not my favorite thing to do, it has to be done. The only way out of this standoff between my feelings and my will is through.
I’m not quite sure how to get through though. I’m not quite sure I want to. These emotions connect me to my father, and also to the me that existed before my cancer diagnosis. I have a friend who has suffered multiple miscarriages in the past few years, and who then suffered the loss of a close relative. I remember that she said that she felt like she’d been grieving for years and I’d agree that she has. Life before loss is easier. I’ve been told that the loss doesn’t get less painful, but that the intensity of the emotion might lessen after time. Something important to you doesn’t just disappear. It’s with you always.
There have been many discussions on, “How to get through the holidays without my dad.” My sisters, my aunts, my step-mother, my cousins, my mom… We are all trying to figure this out. We have wondered if we should just ignore the holidays- If we should all retreat to our in-laws. Or if we should all be together. The plans are not nailed down yet, but in every conversation I have, I am always thinking about how I want every moment, every holiday, every time memories are made to be as full as it can be.
Time is not a luxury I can count on.
I have become very practiced in embracing the moment. Staying in the present and soaking up what is happening NOW is how I try and live my life. I open my arms to opportunity and I cherish the adventures I get to have with my family and friends. When I think about the pain of this holiday and the possibilities of next year, I do so with trepidation. I believe I will be around next year, but you just never know, right, Dad?
Of late, I can’t help but notice all the breast cancer bloggers I follow emphasizing that the five year survival rate for Metastatic Breast Cancer is 22%. That means that 22% of all people diagnosed with Metastatic Breast Cancer survive for five years or more. I’m 2 years post diagnosis. Even though I know I can surpass this timeline and plan to be part of the 22%, the best laid plans often go awry. I wonder if I’ve communicated clearly how much I love my friends and family. And why I love them. I don’t want anything left unsaid. I constantly think about how those closest to me will cope with my death. My husband. My sisters. My mom.
I wonder how my kids will remember me.
Will they idolize me like I idolize my dad? What will holidays be like for them when I am gone? How can I pass on the idea that they should embrace every opportunity to make memories, even when they are the saddest they have ever felt? Who will be attuned to them like I am attuned to them? How will they heal from the deep, dark chasm? I am 38 and this lesson doesn’t come easily to me. They are children.
Life will never be the same. Holidays will never be the same. Because now, instead of my dad, I will have only the memory of him. But those memories contribute to my good grief. I am moving through my emotions, uncontrollable sobbing included, and I will keep making as many memories as I can.