To the outside world, my life appears to be one adventure after the next. I am working on obtaining my doctorate, I have an amazing man in my life, numerous animals who love me that I spend every extra moment with, and a group of amazing friends, both near and far, who constantly lure me on adventures. My family, or what remains of them, are all healthy and happy…for the time being. Because that is mentality that we live with. We appreciate the good times, but are constantly waiting for the floor to drop out from underneath us. It leaves us with severe anxiety, quite a bit of cynicism, and a lot of anger.
It all starts with the diagnosis. Finding out that you might lose a loved one. That there is only a 23% chance that your life will remain normal. I remember the day after finding out my father was diagnosed with leukemia, I went to my advisors office to tell him that I would be missing a week of class. I was going to be traveling to Pittsburgh in order to see my newly-diagnosed, cancer-ridden father. He gave me one piece of advice: “Stay off of the internet Carleigh. Nothing good will come of it.” But what did I, and the rest of my family do? We ran to google. In the search box: “Chances of surviving AML.” Click Enter. Within 0.03 seconds my life was transformed. The odds were not in his favor. There were no new treatments to give us hope. But soon after the initial diagnosis was given, and the central line was put in, life, for the most part, returned to normal. I returned to school and tried to maintain normalcy as a senior in college. But with each smile, or laugh, or glass of wine with my girlfriends, guilt would soon follow. Guilt at feeling happiness when I should feel only sorrow. Guilt at the fact that I was living when my father was dying.
It then moved on to the days immediately prior to experiencing death. No one can prepare you for that. A dear friend of mine lost his mother this past year, and I remember telling him that there was nothing beautiful about witnessing death. It is not the peaceful scenario that is it portrayed on the movies. There is no gentle last breath. It is a shutting down of organs, stressed calls to the nurses station, and anxiety ridden grief. But the worst part? It is full of guilt. Because when you know it is the end, when you know that you are past the point of no return, when your mind and soul can’t take another labored breath, you begin to wish death on your loved one. And then you feel guilt. Because you have been taught to fight to the end. You weren’t raised to be a quitter, but you just want them to quit. To move past this life and into somewhere, ANYWHERE, where organs work and pain isn’t felt.
And then once you have lost someone, the anger sets in. They say it is one of the biggest steps in moving on, that anger. You will feel angry at seeing your friends have their father’s walk them down the aisle, angry at the mushy posts on Facebook on Father’s Day, angry at people lamenting over the loss of their great grandmother, or their cat. Nothing in the world seems fair any longer, but there’s no turning back. And then you get angry at the universe, or at God, if that is what you believe in. Because you were given one life to live, and these are the shitty cards that you have been dealt. But that’s where the guilt kicks back in. Guilt in the anger that you are feeling. Because you watch the news and you see genocide, hate crimes, discrimination, and murder. And you acknowledge the fact that although you have gone through something that was REALLY shitty, that it could always be worse. So you feel pure unfiltered guilt. Guilt for feeling like your anger is superior to others. That your pain is superior to theirs. And guilt over thinking that this was the lowest, because you know that you could always go lower.
I wish I could explain these emotions on a pretty picture, one adorned with a cute, uplifting, or inspiring quote, but I can’t. There is no snazzy motivational quote to give to anyone who has ever truly experience grief. And especially to those rarities out there who have experienced one grief after another, who never trust the world that lies around them, always waiting for the tide to turn. That is where the true naivety comes in: do you live life as an optimistic, constantly trying to seek happiness because you know what true sorrow is? Or do you live life waiting for the next crash, never truly trusting the Universe every time the phone rings. I am awkwardly straddling these lines, so I guess only time will tell. But what I do have is my family. A group of amazing people who understand these bipartite feelings. And for that, I try to let the anger, the guilt, and the grief go, and focus on the good, for without them, I would be nothing.