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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    When ‘home’ changes without us

    When we are away from home, anything can happen. The world changes, we change, our families change. Divorce, death, the sale of a childhood home. We imagine that life would, or at least should, stay the same while we are gone. You cannot return to the same home you left.

    On Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, I said “”happy birthday”” to my father over the phone for the last time. He will not live to see his next birthday. He will die at the age of 53.

    My father was diagnosed with cancer last week. Not simple cancer, removed by surgery or located in one place, but everywhere cancer. His esophagus, lymph nodes, his liver and even the fat cells in his back. If we were the kind of people that name their cancer, we would need a baby name book just to name them all.

    In November, he got a CT scan that showed him to be cancer-free. Now, three months later, he has a lethal, fast-growing cancer. His two doctors are offering chemotherapy and radiation therapy, but he has forgone this course of treatment. My father wants to spend his final days like he lived the rest of his days: Full of life – not constrained to a bed for weeks at a time, undergoing painful treatments.

    This gives him anywhere from three to six months to live, though I would rather bet in Vegas than on the actual time we still have together. The rock, the strength, of my childhood, is dying, and I am away from home while it happens. The hardest thing for me to grapple with so far has been thinking of my future without a father.

    He will almost assuredly not make it to my December graduation from this university. He may not even make it to my next birthday in August. Or even the end of this semester. He will never meet my spouse or my children. There’s a lot of mileage I would still like from my father, but his odometer is about to turn over.

    I am learning that dealing with death is not linear. I have periods of being fine, and then extreme swings of grief and ugly, nasty, sobbing crying. The kind you only see in movies. The kind where I cannot talk, see, taste, breathe or feel anything.

    Some days, my father seems fine and other days, he seems fairly sick. I am lucky I have this time to watch my father live more before his death.

    I think we imagine when we come to college that we are just leaving home, studying away from school. Really, though, home begins to leave us.

    Death is unpredictable for many: unexpected, with no time to say goodbye or reflect. I, at least, have the chance to speak with him over these next few months.

    I am also finding out that wearing sunglasses is important when going to campus, especially if you plan to break down outside of class. Just FYI.

    I am learning that life can be overwhelming sometimes. I am finding beauty and pain in every moment of the day. When my friend Kelly mentioned getting a massage, I remembered, through tears, that my father is a licensed massage therapist.

    When I asked her if I could order a “”happy ending,”” I remember it was my father who taught me the meaning of that term, based on the Avril Lavigne song. More tears.

    It’s why I now have a list of words my friends cannot say. This includes “”law school””, “”massage””, “”happy ending”” and many more. Welcome to my new reality.

    Right now, I am finding that it is incredibly hard to be away from home. I think we imagine when we come to college that we are just leaving home. Really, though, home begins to leave us.

    I feel as if we are at an age when we should be creating our own families. But are any of us ready? We are resigned, it seems, for home to remain the landscape that changes each time we return.

    For now, I keep thinking of what my father’s mother told him when he was just 12. He was talking with her and he asked, “”What is living all about?”” His mother replied, “”No one knows. But if you leave this world a little better than you found it, you’ve done well.””

    My father did just that – dedicated his life to it, in fact. And I will do the same. It’s what sons do for their fathers.

    Sam Feldman is a political science senior. He can be reached at

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