This I Believe

Jennifer - Arlington, Virginia
Entered on May 22, 2006

I believe in my family.

On July 14, 2005, my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This is a devastating disease; the diagnosis is a death sentence. My dad died just a few weeks later. During that time, I experienced the greatest sorrow and pain of my life. But I also felt immense pride in my family who, in the face of overwhelming loss, cared for my dad with more courage and strength than I have ever known.

My dad was the core of our family. My brother, sister and I were the center of his life, even after we were grown. Through our college and graduate school careers, our first and subsequent jobs, our marriages and the birth of our children, my dad was a constant. He protected, supported, and loved us unconditionally; he made every sacrifice for us. And then, he became very sick.

It was our turn – our opportunity — to take care of him. The response was instinctive: fight for his life and make his remaining time peaceful and comfortable. My sister, the physician, was a fierce and tireless advocate during frequent visits to the hospital and through many frightening treatments; as he had protected us for so many years, she now protected him, and made the last weeks of his life immeasurably more tolerable than anyone else could. My brother preserved my dad’s dignity again and again in ways that only a son can for his father, and with astonishing compassion, sensitivity, and humility. Despite their own pain and heartache and fear, they found the strength to care for our dad when he needed us the most.

The fight was not just ours, though. Over the years, our small family had grown; at the end of his life, my dad was surrounded by an extended family who loved him and helped fight for his life as much as we did. My stepmother never left his side and cared for him in ways we could not, protecting him against the demons that must have been persistent visitors in the dark of night. My husband, and brother and sister in law, were selfless and tireless as they made those weeks as undemanding for us as possible; they took leave from their jobs, ran dozens of errands, and took care of our babies so that we might spend all of our time with our dad. My stepsister and brother in law were ever present, providing every form of support to my dad and the rest of us at all times of day and night.

I am filled with deep sadness over the loss of my dad. But equally powerful is the awe I feel for the depth of my family’s love for him and the lengths they went to care for him … and each other. During the worst time of our lives, we found the strength and the courage to ensure that my dad died with love and dignity, and to help each other go on without him. It is in my family that I believe.