The process of dieing from cancer, I believe, would make anyone depressed or want to be depressed, and maybe that is why my dad could never look beyond the process of death. He dreaded life instead of enjoying it, even years before his death when he was able to walk or eat without vomiting. I was twelve when my father was diagnosed with stage IV prostate cancer. Age thirteen when he was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and in a wheelchair with dementia. Dementia in which he could barely talk and his eyes were the only thing that looked alive. His chemo medication left him in a constant nauseous state. I remember after ten minutes into dinner one night, my father began to vomit his recently digested rice onto the table. As my brother and I stood up to avoid the acidic juices from spilling onto our laps, my mom quickly moved to cover up the mess, and it was never discussed in our house afterwards. I hold memories of my dad not attending my high school graduation due to his illness, and missing my college graduation due to his death at age 67.
Despite depression’s chemical etiology, I believe the human spirit of determination can help to fight this disease, even for someone who is effected or affected by death’s process. Determination caused me to follow my dreams; dreams that were not depressed but full of desire to appreciate this short, frail time we all have on Earth, perhaps only a perspective one can achieve after experiencing death. I am currently completing my final year of medical school and I am applying for a residency position in pediatrics, a field with far fewer moments of depressing situations. Daily, I interact with tiny infants who fascinate me every time I look into their eyes. As babies mature, I realize everyday that life is too complex to understand. I believe the amazing ability of infants to hit developmental milestones is humbling enough to realize that life is not able to be broken down into different rational, predictable equations.
I have discovered through time that one never gets over the death of a loved one, but, instead, learns to deal with the idea. It has been eight years since my father’s death and now I feel that death is simply a state of being, and I just have to accept it. This edge between ordinary pleasures and woes; between getting married next month but not having my father walk me down the aisle; between graduating from medical school but my dad not sitting with my mom in the crowd. This balance between optimism and pessimism exists with nearly every decision, and it is up to the individual’s determination to choose what side to stand beside.
This divide between happy and sad is ordinary and death is the ultimate reminder of the situation. What is extraordinary is that life goes on and I can still feel my heart flutter when I stare into my fiancée’s eyes, or that I have an internal smile every time I open Nelson’s Textbook of Pediatrics. I love that I cry every time I see a new mother talk to her baby for the first time. This idea of love, or of moments worth living for, is what makes human life so complex and fascinating. It is not linear; it is not boring; it is not depressing. Ordinary life is full of human moments of spirit, determination and optimism that cannot be denied. Death is not the end for those living.