I have a considerable number of thank you letters to write. I have always been a procrastinator when it comes to these kinds of tasks, and I’m not certain why I can’t match my good intentions with the will to actually perform the deed. However, I have always had faith in myself that at some point in my life I would make restitution to all that have touched me. That faith gives me the courage to continue to face the folks closest to me, time and time again. At this point in my life it seems almost too monumental – and absurdly unfair – to let it go any further. Besides, I’ve learned some things.
Last summer I was diagnosed with cancer. In the months since then, I have been overwhelmed by everyday acts of kindness. They zoom in on me from all directions. A kindness that I have never known and that has, at times, overshadowed the ugliness of this disease. The word “kindness” doesn’t quite seem strong enough. It’s an almost incompetent and somewhat inadequate description. There is no word applicable or one that has my need for strength of conveyance. With the exception of perhaps the word truth. I have seen the inner truth of a lot of people lately, and I’m humbled and awed by the beauty of it.
The truth I have felt most significantly has been that of my parents. As an adult, I have wrapped myself in the glory of my own family and have forgotten the once upon a time of my youth. The way in which you love your own children is the way that you are loved. Denying it or not feeling your parents love does not constitute or guarantee its absence. I may have grown up and become an adult and a parent, but I did not leave my youth behind as I might have thought. It has been here, in me and around me, the entire time. This disease has given me new eyes to watch with, and a new heart to understand with. The absolute truth of what I know is that your life is not a linear succession of milestones, but a vast circumference of love and memories. I did not leave home and embark on my own life, home came with me. Always and undeniably, I am but a child of my parents. And through the truth of their everlasting strength and indomitable will, I have returned to their clutches for protection from death‘s threat. Their arms did not open to embrace me, but had been open all along. I had only to notice it. There is no reservoir of gratitude deep enough nor wide enough for me to indulge, so however humbly, these are their letters. I write these knowing that I haven’t the courage to stand before them and acknowledge what they have done for me, or continue to do.
Thank you for life. Thank you for antiseptic on a scraped knee, years of clean clothes, sweet affection and your on-going, endless love. Thank you for picking me up from school in that rusty-old-barely-red heap of a Toyota that at one time I thought I might die of embarrassment to be seen in. For I know now that you came for me, it matters not how. Thank you for the sleepless nights at your sewing machine, so that I might have new clothes for school. Thank you for using a shampoo that smells of coconuts. When I’m engulfed in your arms, I’m reminded of good times with sunny days on the beach. Thank you for tirelessly coming to my appointments, for holding my hand through bad news, and for your brave face through my diagnosis. You have remained positive and courageous in the face of all that is evil to me.
Thank you for loving my children with such reckless abandon. I have peace that your love will find them regardless of my circumstance. Thank you for the times that you did not stand up for me. Your weakness in those moments gave me the courage to stand up for us both, and showed me that in your moments of great courage, I, too, may show weakness.
As a mother myself, I do understand the all-encompassing scope of your feelings for me. We have a link and a bond untouchable by any two other people in the universe. You carried me, you loved me shamelessly through my teenage quirks and forced a smile through my most challenging of temperaments. And through my grief of this disease, you carry me still.
I am so sorry for the tears that have touched your cheeks and the sobs that have kept you awake at night. It seems a cruel punishment of nature that a mother should ever know the heartbreak that she may have to watch her child die, that you are helpless in preventing it and can only hold me and hope. For you my greatest tears have been shed, and my greatest grief has been known to me. I feel your sorrow as I felt with my own child years ago, mixed with the grief I feel in the possibility of a future separated from my children, by my own death.
Your suffering is unbearable to my heart. It consumes and overwhelms me at levels incomprehensible. I pray silently in your presence for the courage of your strength. Thank you for never believing that I have become too big to sit in your lap, and for stroking my hair while I cried for myself in your arms. Thank you for allowing me to be 5 years old with you, everyday of my life. I love you desperately and I need you more than I tell you.
Your loving daughter.
You have been more to me than my daddy. You have been my teacher, mentor and friend. I’m not sure what it is about little girls and their daddy’s, but I would believe anything you told me. If you told me that I could grab a star from the night sky with my own fingers, I would believe every word, without question. Because daddy said so, and I am your little kitten.
You have been the strong and vigil pillar of my life, never wavering. You have plucked me out of danger and protected me from the boogeyman, real or imaginary. You have been my hero and I have silently worshipped you. You, the gentleman cowboy, with your mysteriousness and strength, you terrified me and mystified me… both at the same time.
Thank you for my shiny red toboggan, and for pushing my frozen and happy face down snowy hills for hours after your body told you to stop. Thank you for giving me the room to make my own mistakes, for not handing me the solutions to my problems but turning me out to find them myself. This has been an invaluable lesson in accountability, one which will find itself on the doorsteps of my children.
Thank you for always being approachable and giving me your undivided attention whether my rants be purposeful or not. You have shown me great respect and I hope to be as dedicated to the feelings of others, as you have been to mine. Thank you for never giving in to me, for never doting on me as daddy’s little girl, and for teaching me to face what life gives me with my shoulders up and integrity in my eye. Thank you for teaching me the value of a soul, and for the kind nature that has been passed down through your genes.
It has never been easy for me to watch you cry, it feels as though the world is coming apart and all that was once secure is now shaken. I have been selfish. I have looked to you through a child’s eye for longer than my childhood. My daddy is just a man. A good man who weeps in the presence of a broken heart. Forgive me for not recognizing the truly remarkable man you are, and have always been.
This disease has burdened your heart with such profound sadness and grief, and I am so sorry for it. What is a daddy to do when he can no longer protect his little girl from the boogeyman? Especially when that boogeyman creeps in silently in the night and wraps it’s fingers around her throat. You admitted to me that you had asked that boogeyman to spare your child, and take you in return. What depth of love you feel for me that you would beg God to die, so that I might live? A sacrifice of such monumental proportions that my own soul aches confronted with such purity. I’m ashamed and burdened with my own guilt that at one time I had offered you, for the life of my son. My utter selfishness condemns my heart. Forgive me, once again.
For all the greatness you have shown me, thank you for the little things as well. For shaving your head every time I had a round of chemotherapy. Not because you would be hairless as I have been, but because you would understand that people look at you differently, and that you, like I, would spend time explaining ourselves to the ignorance of strangers.
The universe holds no boundaries for those that love with conviction, and I shall take you with me wherever my journey leads me and I will remain your little kitten, forever. I love you desperately and need you more than I tell you.
Your loving daughter.
In writing these letters, I have determined that the vehicle of communication was not as important as the message. So my regret in my lack of courage is superseded by my need to be heard. Am I too hard on myself considering all the atrocities that we bestow upon ourselves and each other as human beings everyday? I am no different, striving to find that perfect peace. As a race we are a work in progress, and I find it is a very interesting time to be alive. Would I really want to live in a perfect world? What revelations and growth would I achieve from eternal peace and harmony? Where would be the adventure and life altering epiphanies? We struggle so hard, so that we might live. Actually live. We face extreme hardship and adversity so that we might experience unprecedented levels of joy and exultation. The deeper our hurts, the stronger our love.
In facing cancer, my egotistical mind keeps asking why me? But really, why not me? This could be my opportunity, maybe it‘s my time to learn, or perhaps it’s my time to teach. This lesson may not be for me, but for those who love me and are connected to me.
What greater cause of adversity could there be for me, than to be able to allow those I love to stand beside me in battle with sorrow, so that they might truly appreciate their ability to live and to love. What greater service could there be? In the face of what they could lose, they might find again what was once lost to them, and feel the truth of each other. And in sharing their truths with each other, there may be an awakening in them. Something that moves beyond them and reaches out in kindness to strangers, this time for no reason other than that their truth must be told. Hopefully, one day, it will not take death to loom near to teach us to live. It is a day that I hope to see. This cancer, my cancer, I’ve come to accept and appreciate. It is the tool that teaches humility, even if I am the only student today.