Never not loving immensely: Learning to express my love in the face of tragedy

Living my life doing everything I can to show the people I love I treasure them

A dedication to my family.
Credit: 
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In January of 2017, I felt like I was drowning.

I felt lifeless, cold, adrift in a sea of emotions that I couldn’t quite place. A wave of sadness crashed into me, desolation choking my last breath as my mother told me, “Dad has something called Lymphoma. It’s Cancer.”

My body went numb, void of any emotion that could adequately represent the combination of feelings flowing throughout my body. Fear, for the health of the man I deeply loved and idolized; sadness for myself, my mother, sister, and family; and anger toward the world for what felt like an undeserving punishment.

It sounds dark—heartless, even—to think that, after hearing these words, I didn't break down into tears. I love my father with everything in me, but nothing prepares you for what you are supposed to do in that moment. So, silence filled the room.

I sat still, nodding, signaling that I knew what those words meant—but I didn’t, really. You’re taught in school what cancer is: a heartbreaking disease with no cure to date, in which unhealthy cells excessively grow and multiply. What they don’t teach you is the feeling you get in your stomach when it's happening to someone you love. 

What they don’t teach you is how to take on the responsibility for your little sister at the age of 15 because your mother needs to care for your father. What they don't teach you is how to cope with the feeling that perhaps you didn’t show enough appreciation for a person who might be taken from you.

“Maddie, it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to be sad,” were the only words my devastated yet unbelievably strong mother spoke to the shell of my body. I think that shell replaced me for the following month.

I cried for days to follow in the company of my bedsheets and my sister, who regularly sneaked into my room so she wasn’t alone in her own sorrows. My mother never let us see her upset. Her immense strength and hope for things to get better—for him to get better—brought a calmness to the storm we were living in and inspires me to this day.

***

One day, my mother and sister left the house. I couldn’t care for my father alone, so my uncle and cousin came over. They brought take-out and prepared to turn on what my father loves most: the Toronto Maple Leafs. As dinner ended, my uncle offered to start the game, to which my father graciously stated that both he and I should “get going, because it’s getting late and Maddie has school tomorrow.”

My family and I shot looks of confusion back and forth as we stood in my home, wondering where my father thought he was. My uncle said, “You are home.” My father responded, “No, we are at your house, and me and Maddie must get home.”

Fear consumed my very being. The smartest person I knew couldn’t identify their own home, and I had no idea what to do. My cousin suggested I go up to my room so they could deal with the situation without my sadness consuming the room—a gesture that, in other circumstances, seems minuscule, but, in this one, was incredibly important.

My uncle and cousin had removed me from a heartbreaking situation, cared for such an important person in my life with ease, and kept me fed and healthy. It was an incredible reminder that my family wasn’t alone—that we were completely supported.

In hindsight, I’ve cultivated more appreciation for my uncle and cousin. Before the incident, I always adored them, but I didn’t show them just how much until they supported my family in such a devastating time.

***

After two years of fighting, my family could finally breathe again. My father went into remission, a blessing I know most families fighting cancer do not get to feel. While my father is healthy now and my family has put that scary time behind them, I haven't. I think about it almost daily.

My father’s disease reminds me how precious the people in my life really are and how quickly they can be taken from me. It reminds me to show my love, to express my care, and to deeply appreciate those in my life always, because, looking back, I didn’t. At least, not to the extent I wish I had.

A quick “love ya, Dad” as I skipped family dinner and ran out the door to a sleepover with my friends, or a “thanks for dinner” as I zoned out to watch my tv show at the table, was all the gratitude I offered. I suppose these moments can partly be attributed to being a teenager, but they still stick out to me as times I could have shown my love in better ways.

When the world's unpredictability threatened to take my family from me, these small moments replayed through my head, taunting me about the appreciation I lacked. I was so fearful that those events would be the last ones he would remember if he didn’t beat the cancer—fearful that my lack of appreciation would outweigh the immense love I had for him.

This fear, as morbid as it sounds, is what drove me to never live a second not loving intensely. It drove me to never not show my care for the people I love through words and actions and to never not let people know just how much I treasure them.

I’d rather people tell me that they know I love them—that they tell me I’m annoying and repetitive, or that my constant gratitude isn’t necessary. I’d rather that than know I don’t have the chance to do so anymore and know they may have never known. There are no negatives to telling the people you love that you love them. There are negatives in not telling them.

So, tell the people you love that you care for them. Tell your friend that you treasure your friendship, tell your mother you are grateful for everything she's done for you—without asking for something right after—and tell your crush that you have feelings for them. Display your affection for those around you in the largest gesture you know how because the world may be unpredictable, but your expression of appreciation doesn’t need to be.

The real disease wasn’t the cancer—it was the lack of expression provided before that. That’s a sickness I’ll never catch again.

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