On Thanksgiving of 2006, my world was upended. Not even 20 minutes after my family, all 9 of us, finished eating dinner, the phone rang. It was the doctor calling for both my parents. They took the call in the garage. Ten minutes later my dad quietly asked me to come out there too. I knew something was terribly wrong before I stepped out there and saw my mom stifling tears, because she never cries. Then my parents looked at me with infinite sadness welling in their eyes and my dad said, “Michael, since you’re the oldest we have something to tell you, but you can’t tell any of the others. We’ll tell Joseph and Phillip in a few minutes, but the little ones aren’t to know yet…Mommy has cancer.” At that moment my mom burst into tears and I held her and told her, “It’s okay, we’ll make it.” Then my dad laid it all on me by saying, “You have to stay strong and help us, you’re the rock of this family.”
From there it progressively got worse for my mom with a lung collapse and then brain tumors. My mom was the perfect mom, independent and caring to the utmost, but that changed for all of us. At age 17, I had to take on more responsibility for the family, completely switching roles with my mom and becoming an adult for all involved.
Eight months later I was there holding her hand when it ended on a fateful day in July. She was laboriously breathing when I got to her room in the hospital. Yet, once I took her hand and told her I was there she seemed to calm down and then went peacefully.
The responsibility my dad laid on me eight months earlier continued after that. I had to help my grief stricken dad with some of the funeral arrangements. I couldn’t show my own grief in front of anyone in my family throughout the whole next week. Not at the showing or even the funeral. I couldn’t because I had to be there for my whole family as they all broke down at one point or another. I had to put everything else aside other than my responsibility to them, to make sure they made it through okay. I still have this responsibility, but it has evolved and grown. Often, I no longer feel my age, instead I feel at least ten years older at times.
I believe responsibility is extremely important to uphold, but it can make one grow up too fast. As the oldest in my family, I always knew this, but never was it revealed to me in such stark light before. These events helped to firmly ground this belief within me. Responsibility for me is comparable to honor for the samurais, there is no way around it or life without it.
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