My Shattered World: A Tale Of Love, Isolation, Perseverance, and Reunion.
My dad has passed away a few days ago, and here’s what it felt like for me.
It is uncharacteristically weird to write this text and not knowing whether your dad is still alive or dead. As I intend to publish this only a while after his death, at least you know the answer already. There’s no such option for me. I have to live in a state of Schrodinger’s cat, convinced of both outcomes at exactly the same time. The email and phone went quiet, and I’m around seven-and-a-half thousand kilometres away.
About 13 years ago my dad was diagnosed with cancer. Just like me, he’s not a real fan of doctors (except just one, whom he loved — my grandmother and his mother). It wasn’t really a fair fight. My dad didn’t smoke, rarely drank, and used to be quite adventurous — hiking high mountains and low ravines, and going down the most extreme rapids on a kayak, in places that sound like they are from a fairy tale (Zambia, anyone?).
There’s no place for cancer when you live a life like this. But eventually reality gets in a way, and lots of gruelling work meant that I was growing up not seeing him. If that was hard for me, it was hard for him too — by 7 o’clock in the morning he would be gone, and would be back home at 11pm only to keep on working. Weekends were about the same. It’s been going on for years, and I only have to wonder how much stamina and perseverance he had.
The doctors weren’t wrong, but they, however, miscalculated his perseverance. He lived almost 3 times longer what they expected, fighting for a chance to have a normal life in the wake of everything was going on. He beat their last prognosis by 12 months, surviving for 15 months instead of 3 months as they predicted. It’s not a peaceful, painless, way to die either, as it’s not the type of cancer that’s killing you from the inside, it was the one that literally eats your face. Definitely not something I would ever wish to my worst enemies.
There’s a notion that any life is better than no life. That we, humans, would be holding on to life until the very last second, not willing to let it go. I think I share a lot with my father, because I don’t believe that this is true for us. There’s a need, an important crucial requirement for us, being a human, to have a dignified life. I’m not talking about psychical possessions or the lack of thereof, I’m talking about being able to feed yourself, being able to stand up, be able to voice your opinions no matter what. That means that being hooked up to any sort of dialysis machine is not an option for men in our family. It’s better to let the life go.
I had a chance to see him a few days before his death. I consider myself lucky to be able to say goodbye — at that stage every opportunity to see him also means we have to say good bye like it’s the last time, at the same time hiding and withholding our feelings (a family trait, for sure).
Holding his hand in my hand, it feels warm and also very foreign. I don’t remember holding hands with him like this. It strikes me as odd and sad that such simple gesture wasn’t common between us. Even a full, real bear hug, is not something that I can clearly remember, as it wasn’t common.
There is a countless list of things that you start to regret soon. These things are too many to even start listing them. Living separately and not spending enough time together is high on the list. Being able to make him proud — I can only hope that I did, but yet there’s so much that I could have done.
Nothing united like a personal tragedy like this, and that has been true for our family as well. Usually highly independent, living lives in different countries, sometimes not even knowing who’s where, working continents apart, still, it brought back the family, even if for a bit, and along with it? the feelings and attention to each other. It gave a sense of purpose. It also made me a lot more tolerant, and not just within a family, but also to the outsiders — business partners, service workers, and everyone in between. Everyone has a tragedy they are hiding behind their smile.
It’s both a very humbling and very humiliating process at the same time. Early on when I was growing up, I would be the only man that would be at the house often, so a lot of asks and tasks fell on me, from fixing computers (a natural for me), to fixing things, from opening jars to being the provider. As of right now, I’m the last male in all of my family. In traditional Russian culture that places a lot of responsibility to continue the family tree and keep the last name throughout the time. It’s a lot to take in, and it’s definitely not the responsibility I asked for. It evolved into something bigger, and so I have a choice, whether I continue that path that has been set by tradition or forge a fortune by following a path of my own.
Obviously, nothing can prepare one for the imminent news. What started as a regular morning quickly turned turbulent — I only had to take a quick look at the phone, and it was clear what had happened. What can you feel, what can you really feel when the world hits you with the news “Dad is gone”? I guess for me, it’s when the whole world locks down, and all I have is my dense, almost visible breath and heart that beats like a clock gone mad, pumping blood through the system — it’s the world where everything on the outside is the same, but something very important is now missing.
I can’t really put into words what it feels like. The head is clouded, but the tears are not rushing in to help ease the pain. It must be a new chapter, time to turn the page, time to start a new chapter of life. It whispers to me: You can go to do things to make yourself proud, go make your family, and make them proud too.