by Alicia Napierkowski
Editor in Chief
I originally wrote this piece for my personal blog, Sunlight & Insight. Since my Dad had been diagnosed with cancer two years ago, I’ve turned to writing to not only help myself cope with the unexpected but also for others who can relate. This is for you.
Sometimes I get so caught up in finding the right words that I build a dam instead of letting them flow through me. Often, I forget writing is one thing I don’t have to try to control.
“You can be a bright thing in the midst of this darkness,” Hannah Brencher wrote to me in an email. I’ve obsessively replayed those words in my head and reflected on them the last two weeks. Perfectly timed and stated, they were the words I needed to hear, that I didn’t know I needed to hear. I befriended somebody my soul really needed. My footing has become a little stronger because of it.
Exuberant, I called my girlfriend immediately after to let her know how excited I was by Hannah’s response and how it had given me an entirely new perspective.
With all of this, I’ve been thinking a lot about life and death, living and dying. What it means to be alive, how in God’s name I’m supposed to process any of it. The strangest conclusion I’ve come across is how death leaves you with only one thing to do– Live. So rude, right? Death backs you into a corner without options. Someone threw my roadmap into a fire and told me to find my way home.
You can either take this dark shadow for what it is, or you can decide if you want this to be a prism of light.
I’ve been on a major rollercoaster of emotions lately. I’ve cried with my girlfriend in Chic-fil-A over a chicken sandwich (laughable setting in retrospect) letting out mutters of “but this– was supposed to happen…” and “we didn’t get to do this yet…” I’ve been so angry about how damn unfair this all is. You know, you’re taught if you live well, do right, and love selflessly, you should not be fifty years old in hospice care because cancer has ridden your body of health. You don’t imagine that being part of your ten year plan. Life does not discriminate, and neither does death.
Nothing about this is easy, but nothing about this is in any of our control. It’s so contradictory and I’m still figuring it out.
In lieu of these thoughts, you really get to wondering whether or not you’re living right. If I’m forgiving enough, if I’m strong enough, talented enough, selfless enough. If we’re forced into this playing field, our only choice is to participate. Otherwise we’d never figure those things out.
Contrarily, it’s easy to reject these ideas with evidence of darkness. Getting the rough end of the stick. Being diagnosed with cancer, losing somebody you love, fighting with no reward. It’s very comfortable to sink into that dark corner and hide in the shadows and give up. To not participate. I’ve done it before. I’ve dealt with depression, I’ve hidden away in my bed. I’ve cried and I’ve convinced myself to quit.
But the world has a way of sending you flowers when you’re convinced there’s not enough sunlight to grow them.
Still a pin-sized hole in that starless corner lets the light in, even if you have to poke at it a little at a time. There’s only so long you can hide.
I’ve received support that I don’t even know how to begin to say thank you for. My family has received support, in the form of prayers, thoughts, cards, visits, and food. It’s been humbling and heartwarming. My Dad always says, “I got very lucky with my family and friends… very lucky.”
I can take this heartbreak and sadness and be angry at the world for all of eternity, but that’d mean I’m letting the darkness win. I can endlessly wonder why. These feelings will manifest overtime, but one thing I don’t want to let them do is engulf me. Because with all this sadness, there’s a whole hell of a lot of light coming through my window. My support system has never felt stronger. I’ve never felt so helpless and empty-handed but I’ve also never felt so loved when I couldn’t need it more. The universe has been sending me flowers and I plan to plant a garden and make them into something beautiful.