Being up when down

The past year was a rollercoaster of a year — the type of rollercoaster that has a life-changing up and a life-changing down, with a few loop-the-loops thrown in just to shake things up.

In March 2015, I learned that my two year-long journey through the Harvard-Westlake application process had paid off; all in the form of a crimson acceptance. I remember my mom happily relaying the news to my dad and me, as I lay next to him in bed. 2015 was also the year I lost my dad to cancer.

In early June 2015, my mom took me aside and informed me there was nothing else we could do to fight my dad’s cancer. This was after two years of radiation, surgeries and chemotherapy. If you don’t know what seeing someone go through chemotherapy is like, just imagine muscles turning to mush, vomiting almost every meal, a voice weakening to a whisper. It was incredibly traumatizing at first, but after the umpteenth round of chemo, I had grown accustomed to watching my dad suffer.
When my mom explained that my dad was transitioning to home hospice care, my fear of losing him increased tenfold. I entered my room and cried for a day. Knowing that he would be leaving us soon forced a plethora of questions into my mind.

What should I be doing? What questions can I ask? Should I be asking questions? What if he passes before I get my questions answered?
The most difficult question of all was how I should go about spending the rest of the time I had with my dad. Am I supposed to do the things I normally do, knowing he is lying down in bed, inching closer and closer to death?

Looking back, I still do not have the answers and probably never will fully understand the concept of making the most out of a moment, but I can tell you, it made me realize something that is important for all people. It shouldn’t take a traumatic event to force us to understand how special our time here is.

I had always imagined walking across my high school stage on graduation day, seeing my parents’ smiling faces and sharing in their joy. Losing a parent was something I never considered. Yes, the fact that I shared 15 years with the most important man in my life really is a blessing, but it wasn’t long enough. And the years he spent with cancer? Even more important to me, he showed me that you should never give up fighting. He continued to enjoy life, believing that he shouldn’t sit on the sidelines while cancer ate away at him.

My dad was one of the best huggers in the world, even when he barely had the energy to speak. I will always remember lying next to him in bed, feeling comfortable just being near him.

I realize that, looking back, sometimes the best things aren’t always the easiest. Spending that extra bit of time with my dad created new memories for me, some of which I think of often.

It was certainly far more difficult to be around my terminally ill dad than it was to go downstairs and turn on the Xbox, but moments with my dad taught me what it means to really be alive.

My Xbox is still downstairs, but I can never go and create new memories with my dad.

What I’m trying to say is this: I wish more people really understood how precious life is. Really think about it, because it shouldn’t take a tragic event to wake you up and make you smell the roses.

Take a look at this past week and remember five special experiences you had that didn’t involve Starbucks, Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook. Or hey, maybe that’s your thing.

But whether it’s being thankful for having the privilege of being a part of a beautiful family or being thankful for your Starbucks, take a moment to be thankful for all your moments.

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