This Is Us: The Children Who’ve Lost Parents to Cancer
Losing a parent to cancer happens in stages. Not the stages you think. Not the literal stages of the disease that turns your hero into someone who can barely open a jar of baby food — -the only thing he can stomach. When you’re trying to remember the face of the person you’ve known your whole life before it was sunken in — -time is infinite. The stages come all at once and then slowly and then invisibly sneak in between your happy moments.
This week’s episode of NBC’s hit drama, This Is Us, features Randall (played to perfection by Sterling K. Brown) accompanying his dying father, William (played by the marvelous Ron Cephas Jones), on a trip back to his hometown of Memphis. We journey through William’s life as we see pieces of Randall’s life come together for the first time. Ultimately the trip is William’s last and Randall holds his hand as he leaves the world. Needless to say, I wept endlessly during this episode. (And let’s face it…This Is Us has basically become my therapy session…my weekly crying appointment)…my father died when I was 16 years old. I found out he had cancer two days before he died. So there has always been a part of me that wishes I’d had those final months. To know him. To hear more about his childhood. More about who he was outside of being my dad. At 16, you think you’re just about done being raised. You won’t need your parents. You’re about to leave home. At 29, you KNOW that you’re never done being your parents’ child. In the 13 years since my father’s death I have never been more his daughter. More of his little girl. Every time my heart has been broken or my mind has needed help making sense of this thing we call adulthood, his death has stuck to my bones the same way it did on the day I said goodbye to him.
This is stage 1.
Stage 2 is the slow burn. His absence at my high school and college graduations. His absence, one day, at my wedding. His absence in the life of who will be his grandchildren. His absence accompanied with the nagging notion that 29 year old me could have appreciated him so much more than teenage me did — -feels like a void that cannot be filled. Because you only get one father. And mine is gone.
This is stage 2.
The invisible stage is the small sense of missing something really precious at all times — -no matter how good life is. It’s willing yourself to forget what day Father’s Day falls on this year and yet needing to remember to avoid all the smiling faces of women with their fathers who are alive. It’s loss, of any kind, feeling deeper and more permanent. It’s feeling the need to be teflon — -in case of fire. Because nothing prepared you for the death of the man who created half of your heartbeat…and you’ll never be caught off guard again. It’s subconsciously keeping a running list of all the people God could have taken instead of your father — -and knowing that still won’t bring him back. It’s having his mother’s eyes and not knowing enough about her to even know what that means. It’s seeing friends go through the same loss and not having words for their pain because words don’t fill the void. It’s silently hoping to find a man with his laugh…so you can hear it again.
This is the stage of infinity.
The stage that doesn’t seem to end. The endless grand finale of mourning. Because there will always be moments. There will always be new questions. There will always be new “I didn’t know what you meant then but I do now”-s.
I will always be part of the us…