October 20, 2016

My Dad died from cancer. That’s my “tag line” when people ask me about him. Those words seem to come more naturally to me than most others, as I have had to say them countless times over the last couple years. They describe everything and nothing of what has happened in my life.
On a chilling day in September, after two years of hair loss, immeasurable pain, and too many rounds of chemotherapy to count, my dad’s battle with cancer ended. A confusing and difficult time in my life began as I tried to navigate through life without a father. Everybody deals with grief differently and my way was to pretend like nothing had happened. I bottled up every emotion that I had and plastered a smile across my face, but deep down I knew that I would never be the same person as I used to be. I constantly revisited the last day I had spent with my dad. I had walked into the hospital room and found him lying on his bed; too weak to even open his eyes. I longingly reached for his hand, but the man on the bed was not the man that I knew-the one who had coached my soccer team and taught me how to walk. I was holding the hand of cancer.
One of the hardest things about losing a parent is feeling that nobody understands. Even worse is feeling different and seeing those differences every day. Nobody understood how father-daughter dances at school made me feel like an outcast and they never saw me cry myself to sleep at night because I knew my dad would never get to see me graduate or walk me down the aisle.
I had never been able to deal with the grief I had felt until one of my best friends lost her mom to cancer last year. I spent long nights with her, reminding her that her mom’s cancer did not define her. Through our long talks and many tears I came to realize something myself: I had been trapped in letting grief define who I was. My grades had fallen, I was no longer happy, and I was not proud of who I was becoming. I knew that I was so much more than losing my dad and I had let my other important qualities fade. I was forced to confront the anger and sadness that had plagued my life for so many years. I finally understood that I had lost my child like innocence and began approaching my life with maturity and a realistic view on the world around me. I spent the next couple months dealing with the immaturities of ignoring my feelings and made a conscious decision to change my life.
At first with bitterness, now with acceptance, I realize that there is no promise of tomorrow. We are given such a small time, and we never know when that will run out. Helping my friend deal with her loss allowed me to see the world in a new light. The life and death of my dad are strong influences of who I am today, but now I do not let them define me. I am a strong believer that circumstances do not determine who we are; rather our reactions and responses to these situations shape us into the people we become. Due to my dad’s death, I will never be the same. However, I have learned more about myself and who I want to be based on the example of his life. I know that my dad would want me to be happy, and I would much rather honor my father than grieve his loss. He has ultimately inspired me to further my education and use it as a platform in my life to guide me into my future goal of becoming a pediatric oncology nurse. I know my dad is proud of me for pursuing my dreams, and he always remains in my mind, motivating me to reach for the stars.
Katherine Kolendich