Nobody wants to think about death, especially not the death of a loved one. But in the past year, it’s been on my mind a lot.

Fighting cancer

My father was diagnosed with cancer in April of 2016. Rather than being told how long he had left, he was told, “It’s treatable but not curable.” Still, I hung onto the hope that somehow he’d buck the trend. Many people were praying and hoping for him, so I was sure he’d pull through.

Chemotherapy didn’t begin until June 2016, and it felt like an eternity waiting for him to start treatment while the cancer continued to grow and make him ill. When it finally began, I was by his side for support, along with my Mom. The initial anger I’d felt upon learning about the disease turned to hope as I watched a nurse hook him up to an IV of chemo cocktails.

“Is this the good stuff?” he asked.

“This is it!” the nurse replied cheerfully.

I sat with him for a couple of hours as he laughed and joked with the attendants. The room was filled with other patients, all waiting for the drugs to work their magic. Many had suffered through multiple rounds of chemo, fighting their cancer only to have it return time and time again. That wouldn’t be my Dad. He was tough. He’d beat this.

I had a busy summer that year, so I didn’t have too much time to think about his treatment. I bought a house and my Dad assisted me with small projects when he was feeling well enough.

One evening, early in the fall, we sat on the back deck looking up at the stars. He told me that when he was diagnosed, he’d asked God for two things. He’d prayed that he wouldn’t feel nauseated from the chemo and that he’d live long enough to see me move into my new home. Both of his prayers had been answered and he was happy.

I didn’t tell him, but my prayer was that he would beat cancer and live much, much longer. My father, ever a firm believer in science, was pragmatic and reminded me time and again what the doctor had told him: the cancer is treatable, but not curable. Still, I hoped.

Finally, by March 2017, a computerized tomography (CT) scan showed that the cancer was gone. There was a bell in the chemo room that patients got to ring at the end of their treatment. I asked my Dad if he rang it, but being ever so practical, he shook his head.

“It’s treatable, not curable,” he said, which frustrated me. Deep down, a part of me wanted to believe that the cancer could only do what you allowed it to. Tell it that it’s gone, and it’ll stay gone. Say your prayers and have faith and you’ll be fine. The power of positive thinking. Simple as that.

The return

On April 12, six weeks later and almost a year from the date he was diagnosed, my Dad casually mentioned that his cancer had returned, and he’d once again be starting chemo. Dumbstruck, I asked, “For how long?”

“Probably for life,” he responded.

My dad is young—mid-sixties. Did that mean he’d live 20 to 30 more years while suffering from cancer and the effects of chemo? Or would the drugs slowly take away what health he had left? How would I learn to live with either of these outcomes?

I wanted to scream. It was out of my control and there was nothing I could do but accept it. Cancer would be the “new normal” in our family.

As mentioned, my father believes strongly in science and remains hopeful that a cure might be discovered during the time he has left on Earth. However, he’s also a firm believer in God and believes he’ll go to Heaven when he passes.

I too believe in science, but my faith is weak. When my dad passes away, be it soon or many years from now, I don’t know if I’ll see him again in Heaven.

As I spent time pondering this, I remembered a recent episode of a favourite TV show, in which one of the main characters is worried about the afterlife. He speaks to a kind priest who gives him a new way of looking at it. The priest tells him, “The afterlife is how you’re remembered by the living. Hitler was evil; he will always be remembered as evil. He’s in Hell. Mother Theresa is holy and good. She will always be remembered for that. That’s heaven.”

Plaque honouring Mother Teresa - The greatest lessonHeaven

My Dad will long be remembered as someone who loved life deeply and was fascinated by the mysteries of the universe. He gave generously of his time and money and was a friend to those in need. Recognizing the importance of both working hard and having fun, he always ensured that his family took time for both. He provided me with a moral compass and was always there for me, encouraging me to never give up, no matter how difficult circumstances may be.

In the end, when he draws his last breath and is taken away from us, I’ll give him back to the universe knowing he taught me the greatest lesson of all—how to show love and to be loved in return. And that, in a nutshell, is Heaven.

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Jill Mersereau is a marketing consultant, technical writer and freelance writer living in New Brunswick, Canada. Her short non-fiction story, “Swimming From Quebec to New Brunswick,” was recently published by GetOutThere magazine. Follow her on Twitter @Jill_Mersereau.
image 1. Pexels; 2. Güldem Üstün via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons BY)