The Moment That Changed Life As I Knew It

December 2017 was when we found out my Dad had a year to live. The moment that changed everything. We had already known of his cancer. He had undergone surgery back in May to remove his kidney, where they thought the cancer had been isolated. Things seemed to be going alright, life moved forward after that without much thought or talk about it. It was never on my radar that it might turn into something more. 

When I visited home for Thanksgiving that year, my Dad could not make it to dinner. He was too sick. Still, it never crossed my mind that it might be because of something life threatening. That the cancer had come back.

I remember my Mom calling me often about emergency room and doctors visits. She would sound so worried and I couldn’t understand why. I could not process the idea that something might really be wrong. With my Dad… The strongest, most wonderful person. The person who made the world feel safe, suddenly no longer could. 

Then the real call came. Well, actually, it was me calling them. I knew my Dad had an appointment that day to figure out what was going on. I knew it could be bad, but still hadn’t truly processed it. Still had no idea what I’d do, or what we’d do, if it was. It felt silly to think about when I just “knew” everything was going to be okay. 

But then I made that call. With knots in my stomach because it was weird they had not yet called me. Something was off. My Mom was the one to answer the phone. Actually, I don’t remember anymore if it was her or my Dad. I don’t remember the small chit chat anymore. I just remember my Dad getting on the phone and sounding so sad. So defeated. They had been told the cancer had come back- aggressively. And that he only had a year to live.

A year to live???

How does one even go about processing that? What do you do with that?

Guess it depends on the person.

He kept apologizing to me and I couldn’t understand why. This isn’t you fault? You didn’t chose this? Why are you sorry? It’s you this is happening to. Not me. 

But that was wrong. It happened to us all. My family dynamic changed forever. 

My Dad lost his Dad when he was about 19, if I remember correctly. He passed from an aggressive cancer as well, in his 50’s. I think my Dad somewhere deep down thought he might endure the same fate. He never spoke of it much, but it seemed as though this was not the first time he had thought of it as a possibility. 

I did not understand then, but do now, that he was apologizing because he knew what it felt like. To lose a parent that young. Here I was a hopeful, reckless, uninhibited 24 year old. Just moved to San Diego and had started my first job out of college. I was hopping on planes to fly across the country for 36 hour trips. I was meeting new people, experiencing new things, enjoying the newfound freedom of a first year out of undergrad. 

And then he got sick. It breaks my heart to remember that conversation. To think that he felt the need to apologize. It wasn’t his fault. 

When you’re in this situation, you think you’ll act a certain way or know what to say and do. But you don’t. Nothing makes sense. Everything hurts. It’s impossible to feel normal. 

But I’ve come to learn that normal is boring. Normal doesn’t do great things. Is normal even a real thing? I don’t think so. But whatever my “normal” was before- I don’t want it. I should be more specific- I want everything back about my normal life except the old “normal” me. I want my Dad here with my Mom and to call them and laugh with them and surprise them by flying home and jumping in their bed at 2am. 

But the old me can go. She was a little self-absorbed. It hurts to learn the pains of the world, but I’ve come to believe it makes for a better human. 

I know there are others out there struggling with losing a loved one. More than at pretty much any time in modern history. 

I want you to know I am sorry. I know it sucks. So much. Nothing anyone says can possibly make it any better.

I want to encourage you to take care of yourself. Seriously. Even when you don’t feel like it. Just do something that will make you feel good. Even if only for a second. Creating those moments, and trusting that they will still be accessible when you need them, will get you through. And the more often you create them, the more often they’ll begin to show up on their own.

I think of a girl in her 20’s who’s just been informed her parent might die. Or a girl who’s already lost someone. I think of me and what I needed in those moments. A place to connect. To feel understood. To learn new ways to be me again. To find the new me and to accept and appreciate every ounce of her. If that’s you- thank you for being here. I am honored to be of some service in this gut-wrenching, transformative time in your life; when life as you knew it, has changed as well.

10 thoughts on “The Moment That Changed Life As I Knew It

  1. There’s something about “normal” that I heard and I won’t ever forget it: “Don’t settle for normal, settle for better”. This was during the height of pandemic and when everyone was “just so over it”. But it’s true; normal doesn’t exist (I agree with you completely!!), so the only choice we have is to be better and appreciate the good times along with the bad ones.

    Thanks for putting yourself out there in this blog! #bigfan

    1. I hear you and I love that! Just gotta appreciate it as much as we can when we can ❤️ Thank you so much for reading and for sharing your thoughts!!

  2. Sarah, I can’t even imagine going through the loss of a parent at your age. I have spent the last week trying to write an obituary for my 90 year old mother who died peacefully at home last Wednesday. She had a rich, full life and she was ready to go. Not your much too young dad, and not leaving a much too young you. I hope the memories of the love and times together with your dad brings you comfort. Hugs, Joann

    1. Joann I’m so sorry to hear about your mom. I don’t think age ever makes it easier. Thank you for reading and for sharing your experience with me. It’s nice to feel connected in these things. And I hope the memories and love with your mom brings you comfort as well. Sending you and your family lots of love ❤️

  3. I was 37 when I lost both my parents, 3 months apart. My dad was first and he was the caretaker for my mom. His death rocked me to my core. My mom had no will to live afterwards. I cried every day for at least 2 years on my way to work. It was my time in the car alone that I felt I could just let it all out. It is almost 18 years later and I still feel “lost” at times. Thank you Sarah for these inspiring articles. They really help me reflect on my life.

    1. Ann 😢 thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s tough enough as it is to lose one parent, but losing both in such a short amount of time is unfathomable. I’m so sorry you had to endure such heartache. I’m glad you were able to find time to feel your feelings, I’m sure that was a challenge at times with 4 kids at home.

      Thank you for reading and again for sharing your experience. We all feel lost at times and I hope it brings anyone reading comfort to know we’re all together in that. ❤️

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