Friday, March 17, 2023

life challenges

The last few weeks have been challenging for the Flood family. Our family has been going through some things that are beyond our control and I have seen some of the members of my family in their worst possible state; myself included. However, with much hope we are coming out of these difficult times and I see light on the other side. I have to remember that we all have our own burdens to bear. 

I recently read this post from one of my former students, Elizabeth Walton, on her father's caring bridge site. Her father was diagnosed with brain cancer before Elizabeth was born and now Elizabeth has just recently graduated from college. Elizabeth's father has been fighting cancer for over 20 years and yet has found a way to be a husband and father. I don't know if I would ever have the strength to exhibit this kind of courage and so I stand in amazement at  Elizabeth's family. Elizabeth and I have shared many conversations on making and even more conversations on life. Elizabeth is wise beyond her years and this writing moved me this past week as I work through some of the things my family is going through. I have been blessed with a wonderful family. I hope that Elizabeth's writing gives you all hope in whatever situation you find yourself in.

Journal Entry by Elizabeth Walton — March 11, 2023

I’m here to offer a window into my own grief. Writing this post is a helpful yet difficult moment of processing and sharing what I have been feeling and noticing recently.

I want to preface this writing by saying that I am truly grateful for the immense and continued care, love and support from you all to my family. Thank you for showing up and caring for us in tangible ways. 

This post has been in process for the last couple weeks. Most times I sat down to write ended with me sobbing in front of my computer, too busy blowing my nose to type. 

I was born into this story. I have never known a day with a cancer free dad. Yes, there have been periods of remission, but it has always been part of my story. Only recently have I realized that the specific impact of cancer on each member of my family is different. I have a different story to tell than my mom or dad or my siblings, and the same is true for them. My counselor compared it to a crime scene; many people are interviewed because everyone has a different vantage point and notices different things.

This experience is overwhelming. I feel waves unpredictably of sadness, apathy, and overwhelm. There are days I feel so full and joyful. Excited to see what the future holds. And other days I wonder what’s the point of checking all the boxes when it feels like nothing is guaranteed. There are days I hit construction and all the red lights after leaving just enough time to get to work and my already on overdrive nervous system breaks down in tears knowing I will arrive exactly two minutes late and wondering what happened to the punctual, bright eyed Elizabeth… grief brain, claims the article I read on the internet when I started crying after accidentally missing an application deadline. There are times I look at the seven library books I got recently and wonder if one of them holds the answer to make the pain stop. In my flurry, furiously asking questions I wonder if I really care to know the answer. Mostly I just want the pain to stop. I am so afraid. I do not want to lose the dad I love. I want him to be at those milestone events - if I get married, attend graduate school, have children, etc. Technically it is possible, he could be there, but hoping feels like another way to open myself to hurt and disappointment. 

As Adam Young explores in his podcast The Place We Find Ourselves “Hope is flat out agonizing. Hope requires that you groan inwardly while, at the same time, waiting expectantly. The alternatives to hope are a deadening of desire and a growing cynicism about what you can really expect from life in this world. Indeed, most hope is squashed by the simple phrase “i’m just being realistic.” But our war with hope inevitably leads to God: will God respond to the cries of my heart?”

I recently heard someone say “you grieve the loss to the extent that you loved.” And you best believe that was the best and worst thing to hear because I love my dad A LOT. 

I am becoming viscerally aware of my complete inability to stop the death before my eyes and am seeing the doctor's human limits, as the conversation shifts from eradicating cancer to buying time. I know that this experience does not “check off” my suffering quota for life. I do not know how long I will live, but some days the life that stretches out before me feels like an expanse of opportunity to experience great pain. I now am much more aware of the catch 22 that the more I love someone, the more it hurts when they are gone, but that choosing not to love is the ultimate loss. 

It is all a lot to take in. I am in my early twenties - a time ripe with possibility and burdened with cultural expectations to live an unhindered and exciting life while building a solid foundation for my future. In the story I saw for my early twenties, grieving was not included. 

I am exhausted, and nowhere near “the end” whatever that means. I am so tired of the emotional turmoil, the complexity, the desire for answers and none satisfactory - many things true but unhelpful in these moments. This appears to be the beginning of a long goodbye. Any goodbye is excruciating but the long goodbye feels suffocating right now. I quickly put pressure on myself that because I “knew” my dad was dying I am somehow capable of “figuring everything out” so that I don't have any regrets. But that is impossible. The long goodbye feels like a vast slow pulling apart of life. I grieve so deeply the losses I already see in my dad because he has and does love me so well. I cherish the relationship I have with my father and that makes his decline that much more painful. 

My friend recently reminded me that I am more than my grief. I am still Elizabeth Walton. I refuse for my story to be hijacked by cancer, but the first step is naming what cancer has stolen. 

I have found great comfort in Jerry Sittser’s book A Grace Disguised over the last few months. I want to leave you with this thought from him; an invitation that reflects the unchanging reality of loss yet still offers direction. 

“We cannot change the situation, but we can allow the situation to change us. We exacerbate our suffering needlessly when we allow one loss to lead to another. That causes gradual destruction of the soul... The first kind of death happens to us; the second kind of death happens in us. It is a death we bring on ourselves if we refuse to be transformed by the first death.”

-Elizabeth Walton

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