A week after the Beirut explosion, I receive a text that my dad's been diagnosed with lung cancer.
What a fucking year.
My family and I text when it comes to difficult conversations. When things are easy, we can talk for hours, but when they're personally painful, we have a hard time speaking with our voices. Small texts and avoidance have become our way of navigating these pains.
Anyone who has lost a parent to cancer will recognize that grief like this comes with layered magnitudes of pain. And as I share this post, I'm wondering what the purpose is and I worry about the vulnerability of sharing a wound so open and bloodied, a pain so insurmountable, and a moment so volatile. I'm worried that I'm appropriating this moment, and that this is merely a grasp for attention. But in the universality of the inevitable loss of our parents, I'm finding an extreme irony in how isolating the past few months have been. Maybe a grasp for attention is simply a call for connection.
And as I share this post, I'm wondering what the purpose is and I worry about the vulnerability of sharing a wound so open and bloodied, a pain so insurmountable, and a moment so volatile.
Within a week, I uproot my life in Toronto and return to Edmonton. The city feels smaller, colder, and emptier than I had left it. Partly because the pandemic has curdled every corner of our lives, but mostly, because my dad is dying.
He's been diagnosed with the most aggressive kind of lung cancer which has already spread across his body. The grief that lingers in the air of even the most playful and laughter-filled nights is like an apathetic reminder that I will soon live on a planet where he isn't here. That seems stunningly impossible. There is no light at the end of the tunnel and there is nowhere to go but directly through the darkness.
Grief needs us to disassemble, otherwise it callouses our spirits and hardens our hope.
I'm not sure how we'll tread on, but I'm learning that emotional grit is not the antidote to grief. Grief needs us to disassemble, otherwise it callouses our spirits and hardens our hope. It is directionless and unpredictable in its winds. These past few months have been filled with immense energy and remarkable clarity. They've also been I can't get out of bed and I have zero fucks to give. They are finding meaning in my artistic creations, and then making poor decisions in my scheduling. They are attaching desperately to a friend who makes you laugh followed by an illogical rage that they're not doing enough to help! It's spending hours with my dad listening to his stories and then feeling resentful and anger for his years of smoking. How are we supposed to recognize and navigate the experience when we live in a culture so out of tune with grief?
The loudest message we're given is that grief is seven-days off work and then back to business-as-usual. If I'm honest, a part of me must feel that there's an admirable strength in those who silently and stoically take this on alone. But in the disassembling of grief, we must allow ourselves to receive help; I find that a particularly difficult thing to ask for, but values of community care are anthems I've advocated my entire adult life. I suppose this post is an attempt to resist the individualistic urge instructed by capitalism. Rather, I'll make a small cyber space that allows the fullness of grief to live.
Quite simply, grief can't be lifted alone.
When I have bouts of clarity, I can see friends, old and new, close and far, emotionally powerlifting where I simply couldn't. If grief generates anything, it is profound moments of lucid gratitude. There's a chaotic kindness in its winds that enflames the fires of love.
There's a chaotic kindness in its winds that enflames the fires of love.
In so many ways, the lessons I've hardly started digesting through this pandemic are reinstating their instructions yet again. To attempt to make sense of this right now might be impossible.
But it seems like grief has split me in two: one of me is steadfast and bravely sprite against the disillusions of the world. He's the one who exercises the hope to write this article. The other, however, is fundamentally and decidedly nihilistic. Sometimes, all this reflecting and expressing doesn't make any of this better. My dad is dying and at times, searching for purpose and meaning feels like self delusional bullshit I practice to pretend this is okay. Things are not okay.
I suspect I'm not alone in the long exercise of endurance that this year has been. We've all been buffeting against the trauma of a pandemic reality. I'm far from alone in watching an ailing parent this year. So many of us are in grief and there might not be a silver lining today.
I'm also learning that that's okay.
Maybe what I'm articulating in this post is the simple expression of this moment. Maybe that's the ultimate logic of grief - to simply be witnessed. That might contain more help than anything else.
Maybe that's the ultimate logic of grief - to simply be witnessed.
That's a very scary thing to ask for but it feels like a necessary part of turning over this new year.