Thomm Quackenbush, author

This is my first entry in a long while, not because I have had such a wonderful time that I had no time for writing or that my life was so full of adventure I couldn't be bothered to sit at the computer, but because for the last several months I have known my father was dying and he did not. Does that sound strange? That a daughter would know that and a father, a dying man, wouldn't? I suppose it is a little strange but I have to assume that he simply didn't need to know yet whereas I did. Some Wednesday in November, I had a conversation with my mom, which, while it started innocently enough, quickly turned into one of those talk you hope never to have with anyone. I remember driving on Route 84 towards New Paltz crying and asking, "How does he not know? How can he not want to know?" I think that the second I was diagnosed with cancer, especially cancer that had already metastasized all over my body, I would ask how long I had left. My father didn't. Whether it didn't register that he might die from this or if he simply needed to fight without the added burden of knowing it might be futile, I don't know, and I don't hazard to guess. But I had to ask. My mom, being similar to me in our coping mechanisms, had also already asked. She had called his doctor and her response was "one year." I guess there should be some kind of deep black dirge music playing in the background when I say that, some great cathartic film noir moment but instead it just sort of hangs there, not like that last leaf on a fall tree waiting to fall but more like that helium party balloon that follows you from room to room days after the party has ended. The one that you can't bear to throw away because you want to remember just how much fun you had, but still when you wake from a deep sleep--when there is barely daylight in your room the balloon still startles you.

So thus armed with the knowledge that my father was in fact dying, I needed to face everyday with the knowledge that a) I wasn't, b) he didn't know it. I told my therapist that I was angry with my father for dying and angry because he wasn't. For those of you who have ever watched a love one with a terminal illness, it is unlike anything you've ever experienced. Not only do you look at every nuance in both your and their behaviour, but you are saddled with the idea that every action needs to be evaluated for appropriateness. If I get irritated because he takes too long coming out of the house, am I being mean because after all "he is dying" or am I unfairly impatient? Or can I feel justified in my irritation because he was just dawdling? It's a terrible thing to say but I sometimes envy the people who have no time to say goodbye, whose loved one's lives are taken from them instantly, where the grieving while longer is just that--grief. Not this constant exhausting sense of doom or wondering. Master Barron says that what I'm going through is constantly exhausting, and I suppose to a degree he is right. I know that I feel a sense of depression more profound and ultimately more real than anything I've ever experienced before. This is nothing compared to the teenage angst that surrounded me for so many years. Not that either of these feelings is less painful, merely that this one goes to the bones, there is not a moment which to some degree is not filled with a sense of loss and a sense of melancholy. Even watching TV, reading a book, working out reminds me not only of how alone this journey is but of how alive I am to feel it.

People often talk about the guilt they associate with the death of a loved one. That it should be them or that they could have done something to prevent any if this. The thing with cancer is that it is the ultimate equalizer. I know that not only does it have nothing to do with me but that there is nothing I can do about it. It is the ultimate surrender of control. What scares me the most is the idea that I too will get it. Not that it's catching or that being with him will cause it to occur in my body but because, if you look at the statistics in my family, there seems to be no way that this won't also eventually be my path. My mother has had melanoma and breast cancer, my father has lung cancer and now has lung cancer in his brain (which is such a surreal concept, I'm forced to picture tiny diseased lungs having out in the cerebellum). So what are the chances that I too will end up having the disease? Unfortunately, I think it is unlikely I will escape unscathed by this strange killer. This is not to say I expect to die young in a blaze of glory like a shooting star. Far from it. I will likely live to a fairly good age. The issue is, I think I want to live forever. Unlikely--I would have to say without question, but now in my prime, in my heyday, I cannot imagine the encroaching weakness that will eventually overtake me. I don't want to lose. I am so scared of saying goodbye and having it be the last time. Of wondering if waking up next to Thomm or petting Quest or waking up cramped because the cats are on my legs, if these will all be the last times I do these things. I keep trying to remember how terribly alive I am right now, how this 4 AM is beautiful and how even the pain and the tears can only occur when I am full of this life, but some days are harder than others. This light at the end of my father's tunnel is blinding to everyone but him. For me, it burns at my retinas and purifies the soul of me. For him, I wonder if there are any sunglasses bright enough so that perhaps he will not have to see it. I cannot protect him from this--I can barely protect myself--I have spent so much time learning how to love someone and now I cannot bring myself to try and love. I am angry, angry he is dying, angry that I too am dying, and angry that neither one of us is doing it quickly.

Emily is a strong woman fighting against her body and soul to earn her wings. She is or has been a nationally ranked blackbelt in Tae Kwon Do, a two time inducteee to the Martial Arts Hall of Fame, an animal control officer, a graduate student, and a groovy person.

Stars in the Daytime
Stars in the Daytime

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Works by Thomm Quackenbush


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