Roughly two weeks ago, on Tuesday, December 18th, the world as I knew it flipped upside down. I was wrapping up my first semester teaching in Valle Gran Rey, and was preparing for a weeklong Christmas trip to Lisbon. I had been experiencing moderate anxiety for a couple of weeks leading up to that day, but had been unable to pinpoint a source or a trigger. I just woke up one day with that familiar pit in my stomach and couldn’t shake it. Normally, I can chalk it up to hormones or something in the stars, and it eases after a day or two. But this anxiety was different, and settled in my mind in a way I hadn’t experienced since my sophomore year of college. I wrote it off as homesickness and frustration with my ankle injury and tried to move on with my life. When my mom asked to call me that afternoon, I immediately shot down the thoughts in my head that something could be wrong, and told myself she just wanted to talk. After two weeks of anxiousness, I was mentally loaded for bear and was working hard on redirecting unhealthy thought patterns. But just seconds into the phone call, my unexplained uneasiness suddenly had root. My dad had been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer.
Thinking back, I’ve never had such a clear turning point in my life. Basically all prior change has been pre-meditated. The events that rolled out after that phone call with my mom were anything but. In the following 24 hours, I canceled my Lisbon plans, booked flights home, alerted those close to me, packed a suitcase, cleaned out my fridge, pleaded for and (thankfully) retrieved a return authorization from the Spanish government office on the other side of the island. By the grace of some all-powerful entity, I found a transatlantic flight for just 350€, despite the fact that I was booking just two days in advance. The JFK-Ohio leg was nearly the same price. I spent 39 hours in transit, completely numb. I hadn’t been expecting a return to the United States until June, and much less one under these circumstances. I had also been planning on avoiding winter for a year, having lost my ironclad Maine cold tolerance completely. But shock and disorientation make for a fine coat.
I am home now. The days have been slow and gray, with little bright spots here and there. I am relieved to be in the arms of my family, taking in these precious moments with them in our little rural bubble. Nearly everything is different, but a few things remain unchanged. My brother is still making us laugh, my mom is still holding everyone together, and my dad is still first and foremost concerned for everyone else. I have to laugh when he asks me “What’s wrong?!” Of course, I am still the family’s emotional weak link.
Against my Gemini stellium nature, I’ve had little contact with the outside world—I can’t seem to muster the energy to maintain lengthy text conversations or even answer many messages at all. All of my processing has turned inward. Spiritually, I feel full of mud. I know that I have to seek a “new normal”, but it seems like such an immense effort right now that I’m not yet inspired enough to face. I’ll get there, though—I know people get through times like these by leaning heavily on their spirituality. I welcome any recommendations.
I know for certain I must recapture my sense of gratitude. It will come back to me as things settle down and the seemingly constant flow of bad news stems a bit. For now, I’d like to officially publish a list of the things I am thankful for in this moment.
- My dad starts chemotherapy tomorrow. I know he will head into this battle with the same optimism and intensity he’s always carried inside. Though it’s going to be a tough road, we’re all relieved that tomorrow is the day we start fighting back.
- We have an incredibly supportive network of friends. I always knew that my parents had a lot of connections because they’re nice people and great birdwatchers, but I never fully grasped the sheer number of amazing people who care about my family. Thank you.
- I’m so lucky to have had the privilege to race all the way home to Ohio from a tiny rock halfway around the world. And though there’s no good timing for something like this, having it line up almost exactly with my Christmas break is incredibly fortunate.
- The sun still rises every day, even if Ohio hides it behind gray flannel most of the time.
- I am healthy.
- Everything in our lives has rapidly been distilled into things that matter and things that don’t (there’s a great Rascal Flatts song about this). Problems and worries that once seemed insurmountable are now entirely irrelevant. Sprained ankles will heal. Money will come back. Happiness should come first whenever possible.
- I have a sweet, thoughtful, and patient boyfriend who’s certainly gotten more than he bargained for when he invited la americana to watch the sunset back in October, but who has handled every twist with grace and understanding.
- I also have a big family of wonderful coworkers waiting to welcome me back to Canarias. Thanks to them, I will leave one home and return to another.
- My current anthem: Hang On by Guster.
Thank you for your time spent reading this journal-entry-turned-blogpost. I’ve been drafting it in my head for a week now to explain tone changes/delays in posting, but I realize it also helps me immensely to distill and transcribe my thoughts. I am grateful for this medium and hope to bring more joy here soon.
If you would like to keep up with my dad’s story, please visit https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/bt3updates.