Naive: At 10 years old, most children think that their parents are immortal. We live in a fantasy world where death might exist but it’s so far removed from us that it never even crosses our minds. So one winter afternoon when my parents sat my sister (she was 8 years old at the time) and I down to talk, my first thought automatically was “oh no what did I do this time.”
My dad proceeded to tell us that he had cancer and would be beginning chemotherapy that week. My mind started to spin, “don’t people die from cancer?”, “there’s no way MY dad can die”, etc.
The Explanation: Now at this point, my parents could have “silverlined it” as Brene Brown said. They could have sworn he would be fine, explained nothing or even sent us to live with our grandparents, but they didn’t. They were honest, open and empathetic. They lay out what the next 9 months of our lives would look like, told us what to expect and even what could happen.
Most people were shocked that my sister and I knew so much, they couldn’t believe that my parents had shared everything with such young young children. My parents knew what they were doing though. By explaining everything to us, they brought my sister and I into the fight and allowed us to share in this tough but meaningful journey.
That week my sister and I helped my dad shave his head, we sat with him through his first chemo session and we rubbed his back at night when he felt sick. We were so scared but we got to be scared together, with our parents, and that made it OK.
Our parents also set new boundaries: no screaming and running through the house, no fighting and no giving up. My sister and I learned to settle our own disagreements, we tried to help clean and cook, and we realized that there was so much more to life than just our own needs and wants.
Grateful: Not only did my parents level with us and maintain an honest, open dialogue throughout this whole time, but they worked as hard as they could to make it a positive experience. A time in our lives where hopefully we would have some good memories.
My dad let us put temporary tattoos all over his now bald head and then bring him into our classes for show and tell. At one point, he was in the hospital for 2 weeks straight and we got to eat chocolate pudding or Gushers every time we visited him (a big treat back then). Our grandparents even came out to visit and brought us a dog, which we had been begging for for years. None of these things were meant to distract us from what was really happening or sugarcoat stuff though, they were just meant to help bring joy to us at a time when it was difficult to find.
My dad has now been in remission for 11 years and is healthier than I ever! This experience brought my family closer together and gave us a new appreciation for what we took for granted. Whenever I look back on that year I remember the sadness and the fear, but I also remember the happiness and the laughter we found in the little things. I know the way my parents treated us and the things they did are the only reason I can manage to even write about this today. I am forever grateful that they chose empathy over sympathy and allowed themselves to be vulnerable with us.