I’ll never forget the day I found out my dad had cancer. It was spring break, and I was sitting up in my bedroom at my parent’s house working on a twenty page research paper. I was five pages in, and was actually really enjoying writing it… And it was good. Not to toot my own horn, but it was A work.
It was my mother’s birthday, and my father had an appointment for his stomach because he was losing weight and was having trouble holding down any food. He had been struggling for a while, but had done a really good job of hiding that he was sick. You see, my father only had half a stomach because of a previous illness. He knew something was wrong, and feared he was going to need a colostomy bag. Never in a million years did any of us think he was going to get the diagnosis that he did.
My bedroom window was open, and I heard the car as it pulled into the driveway. I immediately stopped typing and headed downstairs to see how my dad’s appointment went. I walked into the kitchen from the hallway just as my father emerged through the backdoor. I immediately knew that something was wrong. He looked at me with tears in his eyes, then without saying anything, he quickly walked into our dining room, clearly avoiding me. As my mother walked into the kitchen I anxiously asked, “How’d it go?” She paused for a second, and then in one sentence my world came crashing down. “Daddy has stomach cancer.”
I actually managed to finish that research paper… It was a few days late, and the last fifteen pages were terrible, but it got done. Besides those first five pages, it was C work. At best. But my professor still gave me an A. And she gave me an A on every other assignment after that one, even though I didn’t deserve it. She knew I was an A student doing C work. She also knew that my father was terminally ill. Up to that point I had actually thought she was kind of a bitch. Her class was tough and she was the opposite of approachable. But after spring break she looked at me differently. I knew that she could see my broken heart… As much as I tried to hold myself together, she saw right through it. And she helped me out. Because sometimes life sucks.
My father died on August 10, 2001. He battled his cancer with courage and grace. He always held onto his sense of humor, and did his best to make what were his darkest days easier for those around him. It didn’t really feel like it back then, but now I can honestly say he’s my hero. And I miss him like crazy. I miss his big sparkly eyes and the way he snorted when he laughed. I miss hearing him use copious amounts of curse words when he would talk on the phone with his friends. And I miss his cooking. Dinner was always so yummy. I even miss how loudly he would snore when he fell asleep on the couch. I miss everything about him. He was a good father and a great man.
After he died, my friends and family tried to help lift me up. But I was numb. I was in shock. It didn’t seem real… For months, it didn’t seem real. I tried my best to act normal, but some days just getting out of bed felt like an impossible task. I retreated inside myself, and stayed there. Alone. I was impossible to reach. Difficult to help. Despondent. And depressed. At my lowest of lows, I found myself at school, surrounded by people, yet completely by myself. On one particularly difficult day I was desperate to get away. I was drowning in my sorrows and feeling completely misunderstood. I just needed to go home. I needed my mom. And my closest family and friends. But I had $5.00 in the bank and an empty tank of gas. I was stuck.
So I asked for help. I made a tear-filled phone call to my friend, Lois, late at night. We had had a long history of both helping and hurting each other. But really, when push came to shove, both Lois and I have always known we can count on each other. We had rescued one another before. Shared beds, clothes, cars… I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if we shared our toothbrushes. And on the night I called her, in an instant she was on her way. She drove an hour and a half to come pick me up. She helped me pack up my stuff. And she was ready to fiercely defend my honor to those who no longer understood me. Then she drove me an hour and a half back home. She listened to me cry the whole way, and just let me be sad. I’m not actually sure what I would’ve done if she hadn’t answered my call that night. She saved me. And I am eternally grateful.
It’s funny, I actually haven’t seen Lois in ages. And we don’t speak often. But I can say with 100% certainty that if I ever needed her help, she’d be there. And the same goes for me. But this post isn’t really about Lois. It’s about having the courage to ask for and accept help. It’s about knowing that there are so many people who are ready and willing to do whatever they can to lift you up when you’re feeling low. And knowing that it doesn’t make you weak. It makes you strong.
You know, it seems like when times get tough, we all wear this mask that looks something like courage. But real courage is when you take that mask off, and show people what’s really happening inside of you. I wish I knew that sixteen years ago. At my deepest, darkest moments I had no choice but to ask for help. But on all the other days I wore a mask. Just like everyone else does. I wish I hadn’t done that. It probably would’ve spared me a lot of hurt. And I probably would’ve healed a lot faster. It’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from the loss of my dad… Asking for help. And knowing that letting others carry me isn’t weak. It’s human.