But here's the bare truth. My dad is very, very sick. Cancer. He had it three years ago, and had a stem cell transplant. The cancer went into remission. Now it has returned in full fury. The first time he had cancer, I felt distant from him. My parents had divorced when I was young. There were hard feelings. My dad and I had some distance between us. I felt that I should feel more at the time.
So I went to be with him for the summer. It was a blisteringly hot three months in Arizona. I found a job at a local megachurch and became low man on the totem pole, zeroxing things and putting out mailings in the office. I also worked as a teacher's assistant at the local school. I got by. And I got to know my dad, like I hadn't before. I started to see his sense of humor beneath remarks that I had just seen as offensive before. There was a lot more of the tongue in cheek to my dad than I had known. I saw his ability to love...and his sometimes inability to know how to express it. I saw his inventiveness...and intelligence. And I came to really love my dad. That was the summer it all changed for me. And then the cancer went away and we had the years in between. I got engaged and he was able to come to the wedding.
But this year, he started having health problems. There started being indicators that the cancer was back, but no absolute evidence. Until February. Then it was for sure. I recently found out that the doctors had told my dad that he had six months to live if he did nothing in the way of treatment. He chose to fight it. They put him on experimental medication, which (as I understand it) is reserved for really serious cases. The medicine is so experimental that it is just out of the lab...only one other human being had been on it when Dad went on it. Anything could happen...a miracle...or death...or something in between.
And the truth is...I am terrified. He is too young...I want him to see his grandchildren. I have only really known my dad for a few years and I want him to stick around. I want to know him better. But I feel as if we are at the top of a hill and starting to go downhill. How long his journey downhill will be, I don't know.
We are traveling to see him in a week. A great American road trip, my husband and I. My husband barely knows him...our romance was quick and purposeful and didn't leave the time for long, involved ties built with family members. We will camp on our way there and back. We will look at the countryside. We will think of how precious life is. I will probably cry. I will have the space to feel the depths of what is happening. I will have space to "get into the deep, beautiful melancholy of all that has happened" (Elizabethtown, 2005).
Melancholy can be beautiful when you realize that loss means you have really lived and loved. But the truth is, you always kind of wish it could be different. Couldn't you live and love without losing?