Thursday, January 29, 2015

Denial (it ain't just a river in Egypt)

As honest as I am in this blog, obviously there are things I leave out -- lots of things -- for many different reasons. Some of those things feel too personal to write down even if I will never publish them, and others I keep to myself out of fear that I would hurt someone if I shared them. Tonight I feel uncomfortable and at the same time slightly liberated at my decision to write about something that I would normally keep to myself.

Anyone who has followed this blog for the past two and a half years knows that I don't talk about my dad very often. I do not spend as much time with him as I spend with my mom, which isn't to say that I love him any less. Indeed, even if he and I don't talk all the time, I have no doubt that my dad cares about me deeply and sincerely, just as I care about him.

My father is human which makes him -- like all of us -- complicated in some respects and simple in others. When it comes to my cancer experience, however, I honestly don't know where he falls.

Earlier tonight, a few friends and I were having dinner at my parents' house while working on some marketing ideas for the book. We got to talking about technological issues related to the blog, namely "SEO" (never heard of it) and how I no longer liked the blog address, We were talking about how I had changed the blog title from Total Recovery. Full Stop. Checkmate. I win. to Hope is a Good Breakfast -- The Blog. I referenced the fact that I don't like the prior language anymore because it implies a linear battle with cancer and while hope for such a path was precisely what I needed during the earlier stages of this journey, right now, it didn't fit me. Now I see that so many people -- including possibly myself -- are not blessed with a linear journey through cancer. We may not get "total recovery" and while we may "win" in so many ways, cancer could still kill our bodies.

I could feel my dad heating up at the end of the table as I avoided eye contact and gave a very short version of that explanation. I knew he was mad. My dad grew up in the city -- in a tough neighborhood with countless obstacles -- and perhaps as a result of that, he often defaults to anger as his outward emotion. I wasn't surprised by his reaction in retrospect even if I was a bit taken off-guard by it at the time.

"Well you still have hope, don't you?" he questioned somewhat abrasively.

"Yes, I do," I answered defensively.

"You hope that it will never come back!" he asserted.

"Yes, obviously I hope that." Still defensive.

"Well then." For him, that was it.

"But it's come back in people I know, Dad." I wonder now if I should have said that. Either way, in my memory, the conversation ended there.

This small exchange shook me a bit, perhaps because I realized then and there how little of my inner experience with cancer my dad actually knows about. He doesn't read this blog, perhaps because of his dyslexia or because I write so freaking much, or maybe just because at 65 years old, he figures he's too old for blogs. I don't fault him for that. Or maybe part of me does. Honestly, I'm not sure.

When I think about my dad and his experience as a parent of a child with cancer, I wonder if consciously or subconsciously, he has taken the approach of denial. Merriam-Webster defines denial in relevant part as: a condition in which someone will not admit that something sad, painful, etc., is true or real. Wait, can people even do that consciously?

Is my dad in denial about my cancer? Does he just not let his mind process it all because he honestly cannot bear the thought of one of his children being hurt -- physically or emotionally -- or worst of all, dying? Maybe. Or maybe he does process it and just doesn't do it the way I do -- by blabbing everything to the world. In all honesty, even if it is denial, if that works for him, I'm so glad for it. Or more truthfully, I'm so glad for it 95% of the time.

In that 95% of the time, I want to keep my dad away from the reality of my cancer if that's where he wants to be. I want him to think, Tara beat cancer, even if I wouldn't phrase it that way and even if when I hear those words I think I feel cancer in my pancreas. In that 95% of the time, I am thankful for denial -- truly grateful for it -- and I want my dad to be safe there.

Then there's the 5% of the time -- the time when there seems to be a high, thorny wall between my evolving acceptance of my reality and my dad's possible denial of it. That wall can feel cold and in the 5% of the time, I doubt that I can climb over it, which makes me sad. But I have learned over the past two years that eventually one of us scales the wall (or digs through it). That's when I remember that having a child with cancer must be pretty f*&king awful. And I could never scale any wall if I expect my dad to cope with the f*&king awfulness in the same ways that I do.

1 comment:

  1. Dads are a breed of their own but NEVER fail to love unconditionally!