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A Second Life

I will never again be the person I was in the minutes leading up to the call. I briefly imagined the worst and then quickly convinced myself that he was probably calling to ask me what I wanted for my upcoming birthday in 15 days.
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I will never again be the person I was in the minutes leading up to the call. I briefly imagined the worst and then quickly convinced myself that he was probably calling to ask me what I wanted for my upcoming birthday in 15 days.

What is it deep inside of me that I immediately expect the worst?

He asked me if I was at work, which wasn't uncommon, but when I said yes he uncharacteristically insisted that I call him back later that night.

Oh, shit.

I rationalized that I was on my lunch break and that I could get home safely if I needed to leave. He hesitated but gave in after he confirmed I was sitting, "I have lung cancer."

"You have lung cancer?" I questioned, praying that I somehow heard him wrong.

Do you meet most of life with a question?

I've relived this conversation, and most of my father's four months and twelve-day cancer battle, over and over for the last 2.2 years in a futile attempt to make sense of what happened. As if I missed some minute detail that would finally make sense of it all.

And I wasn't even there for most of it. It's hard to be when you live 1,856 miles away.

You weren't there for your father when he needed you the most. What kind of person does that make you?

I should have been there. I should have dropped everything to be by his side. Stage four lung cancer drew a battle line, and I chose the wrong side.

But during those one hundred and thirty-five cancer filled days life wasn't so clear, so black and white. That's the thing about the stories we relive and rehearse in our mind: it's easy to demonize the person you were yesterday while standing on the steps of today.

Why must you beat yourself up for the past, for things you cannot change?

I spent two years, seven months and twenty days confined in solitary sorrow, despite the pleas of loving family and friends. I wonder if they felt as helpless as I did. Or maybe they secretly thought I should have gotten over it by now, that my grief was too complicated.

My grief felt simple: my 51-year-old father should still be here.

I should still see him on the other side of the security glass waiting to pick me up at Logan airport, knowing he had been there for at least an hour because he was just so excited to see me. I'm convinced he would have waited at the gate if security measures didn't prevent him from doing so. I should be able to sit with him and listen to the same stories repeated as though I had never heard them before. I should be able to call and hear him call me kiddo. I should be able to visit him, but instead, I visit a patch of grass.

The shoulds sat on my shoulder reminding me of their existence each day. I instinctively retreated within as a form of preservation, using self-inquiry to navigate a sea of sadness.

Observe the thoughts that surround your stories. Who is the storyteller?

Losing my father hasn't made me a better person; I'm a different person. It's hollowed me out, gutted to the core.

Grief shattered me but by remaining mindful of my thoughts and motivations, I consciously choose which broken pieces I pick back up to put myself back together again. I also get to choose which pieces stay behind because they no longer serve me. Maybe that's the point of deep, harrowing heartache.

What do you call having to re-learn how to live and in the process re-discovering all that you are?

Exploring my pain allowed me to understand the depth of human emotion and the universality of all suffering. Only then could I begin to grasp the wounds of the world. The pain in me recognizes the pain in you.

The rational mind demands answers; the soul invites you to question.

This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at