Wednesday, September 12, 2012

An Open Letter To My Father: On what I wish I could tell you

Dear Father:
Isn't it funny (or maybe ironic...?) how things come together sometimes? I looked at the calendar last night and realized something: It's been almost 10 years since you were diagnosed with cancer. Ten years. An entire decade. Honestly, I was a bit taken aback by this realization. How could it be 10 years? It actually seems like 10 days. But then, there are other times when it seems like 100 years, which is maybe why it all leaves me with a very unsettled feeling. The symptoms started out innocently enough -- a few nosebleeds here, a few nosebleeds there. It was the fall. you thought simple allergies were the culprit. If only life -- if only anything, really -- could be that simple, right?

So what's behind all this cancer talk, really? Besides the startling 10-year anniversary? I caught the annual Stand Up 2 Cancer telethon last week. Truth be told, I set my DVR to see Taylor Swift, who debuted her new song, "Ronan." She wrote the song after reading Rockstar Ronan, Maya Thompson's honest, raw and heartfelt blog chronicling her four-year-old son's battle with cancer and her grief journey following his death last year. Now, I expected this song to hit me like a ton of bricks, but I wasn't expecting it to knock the wind right out of my sails. The entire house was quiet -- eerily quiet -- as I settled in to watch. Everyone had already gone to bed; looking back now, maybe that was a good thing. As I watched the performance, I could feel the little droplets of tears begin to well up in my eyes. It wasn't blubbering exactly, but it was a lot more than I was used to? Did I ever tell you that I managed to hold back the tears at your memorial service? Not too sure how I managed that, but I did. But now? On that night. In the living room. With the lights dim and the glow of the television. It all got to me -- the melody of the song, the lyrics, Maya's story of losing a loved one and feeling like a huge piece of you died with them -- and I cried a bit for you. Or, rather, I guess, for me. I cried because, well, a part of me was jealous of those who lose loved ones to cancer. I know that sounds incredibly odd. Let me explain.
For nearly a decade, I've wished that it was the cancer -- not your own hand -- that killed you. I wish there was a cancer I could blame. I wish there was something -- anything -- other than you that I could look at and say, "You did this. You killed my father." Maybe it would make things a bit more bearable. Maybe it would give e some comfort to know that you, for whatever reason, didn't actually want to leave, that you would have done everything in your power to stay with your family if you could. Maybe I wouldn't have this lingering anger following me around like a shadow. But, sadly, I can't. Because, really, if I'm being honest, there's no one else to blame. And, that fact just kills me. It's killed me for the last 10 years. I often wonder if it will kill me for the next 10 or 20 or even 30 years.

When it comes to the Grief Club, I've always felt like I've never quite belonged anywhere. I've sort of been in grief limbo. I don't really identify with those who have lost loved ones to cancer because, although you had cancer, that's not really how you died. And, I've never quite felt a sense of belonging with suicide survivors because, had you not gotten cancer, you probably wouldn't have committed suicide. Do you see the vicious cycle here, Father? So where exactly do I belong? Or do I even belong anywhere at all?
As we get closer to the time of year when you got sick, I so wish I could talk to you. To hear your voice. To hear that fatherly advice you were always so quick to give. To just tell you what's been going on in my life. Why? Because so much has been going on in my life -- heck, 10 years of happenings. I wish you could see me now and see all I've done since you died -- graduate college, get my first job and discover my passion for blogging. There's so much that has happened, and there's even more that you didn't see.

So, Father? Like Taylor's song says, "You were my best 21 years." I miss you every single day, and I hope you know just how much I love you...and will always love you.

[Photos via We Heart It]


  1. Wow Mel your almost had me crying there cause your fathers death had an impact on me too and it really is hard to face the reality of what happened. I'm happy that you shared this part of your life. It was nice to read.

  2. Dear Mel:

    This was beautifully written. So glad you share your deepest thoughts and feelings with us. Very touching indeed.

  3. Awww, thanks, Brandy! I miss you!! xoxo

  4. This is a powerful essay. I'm sure he never wanted you to feel this pain for ten years.

  5. Thank you for being so honest about the difficult place you are in and how much you miss your Dad. I, too, miss my Dad but under very different circumstances. Still, I wish I could tell him things and see his smile light up every time I entered a room with him in it. Miss him so much. Thanks again for sharing, Melissa. Keep up the blogging.

  6. What a great post, thank youfro exploring all of the contradictory feelings you'e had over your father's passing. When my dad died I would get jealous if saw a any old men who were older than him.

  7. That's beautiful, Melissa. I can only say that I'm sure he's very proud of you and smiling down on you from above.

  8. This was so beautifully written, Melissa. I'm so sorry for your grief; but it's wonderful that a song was powerful enough to inspire you to write this. :)

  9. I am so sorry your father left you too soon. He obviously gave you an incredible foundation of love. That love is his legacy.

  10. That was very heartfelt...but you know me....I'm going to ask you some tough questions once again! Clearly you are still grieving the death of your father and that's understandable. I assume you've had grief counseling at some point? Did your father leave a note? Did that note offer any type of explanation that could bring you some sense of explanation as to why he did what he did? Clearly, I am no "expert" in the field of grief, but I lost both my mother and father fairly close together. In the case of my dad, it was a massive heart attack, brought on by years of heavy smoking. The doctor at the Cleveland Clinic told us he had the worst cardio-vascular system he had ever seen. To me, that is almost like a suicide of sorts. He chose to continue a habit that eventually took his life. Like your dad....he had a choice, and ultimately, he chose to do something to bring on his death prematurely. For me, I refuse to agonize over "what if?"...I don't blog about my devotion to him every couple of weeks...I treasure the wonderful memories of an extraordinary father amongst the small group of family and friends who loved him too. Yes, I know you will tell me....everyone grieves differently...grief has no timetable....but clearly you must know that there are emotionally healthy ways to cope with losing someone close to you. How about writing his life story and trying to get it published? Can you volunteer for a cause that was near and dear to his heart? How about planting a tree in his honor in a public park? A tree can live for hundreds of years and is life affirming. Can you create a foundation or scholarship in his name? Do you participate in fund-raising for the Cancer Society or Suicide Prevention organizations? These are merely suggestions, but instead of sitting in a dark room all alone, crying and focusing on what your dad has missed in YOUR life clearly doesn't sound like it's helping you move forward in the grief process. If you get off the couch and get busy..doing something constructive and positive in his memory, you will succeed in leaving a living legacy that celebrates the joys of the life he lived, and not the sorrows of the death he chose for himself. I don't know if you are particularly religious or spiritual, but understanding that your dad is at peace with God and you will see him again and be with him for all eternity brings comfort to loved ones left behind. And one more piece of advice? Don't believe for one minute that you cannot talk to your father anymore or hear his voice. It is within your heart that he just need the skills to be able to listen and hear him.

  11. Thanks for these kind words, friends! xoxo

  12. Anon -- In some ways, I think, no one really ever stops grieving, especially the suicide of a loved one. You learn to go on, yes, but a part of that grief will always be with you.

    I've been in therapy on and off since my father's death, and it has helped tremendously.

    As for my writing about him every couple of weeks, it's not so I can blog about my devotion to him. Writing has always been a cathartic and healthy way for me to process my life, and my dad's death is no different. Maybe I'll turn some of these blog posts into a book someday...thanks for the idea!


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