“resilient: (adjective re·sil·ient) able to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching or being compressed; able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.”
My happiness is not merely defined by a series of hedonistic events, and my wealth not by a number in a bank account. I’m happy because I stay grateful and notice the beauty hidden behind even the most imperfect parts of life. I’m rich because I am overwhelmed with love, family, and friends even through tough times. And I’m resilient because no matter what life throws at me, I will bounce back even higher.
A few weeks ago, my family and I went through one of the toughest weeks of our lives. Just when we thought we had beat dad’s cancer from his last surgery that removed a part of his colon, he got diagnosed this time with later stage lung cancer.
I don’t get sad to this extreme often, and I am able to bounce back very quickly. However, this one really tore my heart apart.
The week following his diagnosis, I was in tears, constantly. It felt like my heart was bleeding through my eyes as tears that wouldn’t stop. My heart and my stomach physically hurt. It was a complex set of emotions; I felt scared, I felt sad, I felt anxiety, I felt helpless, I felt guilty for not doing enough for my dad, I felt angry, I felt sick to my stomach thinking about how scary this must feel for him.
Hope turned into despair, then I desperately would try to be positive for a little while, then I crashed hard into a dark place. This cycle repeated itself for a few days, sometimes several times an hour, and several times a day. It was driving me crazy. I would tell myself, holy shit, my dad is fucking dying. And emotions repeated.
But after a week of this cycle of hell, I realized I couldn’t do this anymore for me or for my parents. I had to be strong, smart and focused more than ever, so I can be there for my parents. I looked in the mirror when I woke up, and told myself, “Yuri, you are not perfect by any means, but one thing you are – you are resilient. You know that about yourself. Get your shit together, and be more present, be grateful for the time you have with him, and be strong.”
And there was so much I wanted to tell him but I was scared to tell him everything I wanted to tell him, because it was so unusual for me to open up this much to him about how much he means to me. I was scared that if I actually told him what I wanted to tell him, I would feel as if I am admitting that he is actually going to die. And I didn’t want that. It felt like that means we were losing to cancer. To say, yes, you win, here I am admitting that my dad is dying by telling him things I was saving for decades later.
But I knew I had to. Whatever it seemed to mean, and despite how scared I felt, I just had to.
So one of the many sleepless nights that following week, at 3:23 am, I texted (yes I know, I am still a chicken for TEXTING him, but it was a big step towards the right direction).. all the things I’ve been wanting to say to him… that after my mom got divorced, since I was 5 years old, I used to pray to God every night that He would send me a dad… and that I used to watch Annie, the movie, at least once a week daydreaming about what it would be like if I got a dad. And that God.. or whoever up there, did listen to me after all. And out of all people out there, I told him, he sent YOU to me, and not only does he love me unconditionally, but he is also generous, selfless, creative, optimistic, and full of spirit…And that I feel so blessed and feel like I am the luckiest daughter in the world…. And added, “Dad, that’s how I know God listens to my prayers. He already granted me my wishes before. And right now, I know he will listen to our prayers again.”
Then he texted me back to my surprise at 3:47 am, as I am sure he was also having a sleepless night, … He texted me, in Korean.. “Yuri I love you so much and thank you so much for growing up to be a beautiful person and a woman that you’ve become. I am the happiest and the luckiest dad in the world.”
And I cried and cried till the sun came up that night in my bed, until I couldn’t anymore.
But strangely, instead of feeling defeated, something magical happened the next morning. As we uncovered our deepest level of father-daughter unconditional love, I felt a part of my heart breathe and accept this beautiful moment as it was. I felt this huge weight lift off my heart and my stomach that has been causing me so much anxiety. I felt relieved to be real and to have opened my heart. I felt… alive.
So that following morning, for the first time since his dreadful diagnosis, I told myself in the mirror as I stared back at my exhausted, but hopeful eyes, “your dad is not dying. He is living..yes unfortunately with cancer. But he is fucking living. And he is going to live every day, not die every day. And so are you.”
The irony of the two seemingly opposite words is that they actually point to the same direction. Whether we are “living” or “dying,” we are going from birth to death. One sounds scarier and hopeless, and the other sounds vibrant and lively.
I realized, we all have a choice. We can all choose to die every day or we can all chose to live. But ironically, confronting the fact that everyone eventually dies, is what reminded me to live again. And we weren’t going to let this cancer word get in the way of my dad and my family living.
It’s never too early to tell someone how much they mean to you. It makes you and them feel alive. So go pour your heart out to someone who means a lot to you. Life is precious.
And lastly, here is a repost of my poem that I wrote a few years back. It is crazy how a poem that I wrote years ago start to make more sense to you years later.
I’d rather be dying
Brave me, for the end is known
Honesty and truth have shifted from
luxuries to Reasons
Desires have weakened, yet
Humbled, not afraid to
reveal my vulnerability
While imagining the eternal dark shadows of my eyelids
for the first time I
notice the different hues of the changing seasons,
the way the sun gracefully glides behind the twinkling horizon
the delicate shape of the hidden tears and colorful laughter of those
I have loved, but never missed before.
The illusion of inching closer towards a known conclusion, rather than
moving away from the start
Carves my greed down till I am left with
but what I can bring to the gates of heaven
But haven’t I always been moving in one direction
Even before I left the innate warmth of the womb?
I’d rather be dying
love you dad.
and fuck cancer.