*Fair warning. This deals with difficult topics like death and cancer.*
Earlier today, my mother called me and informed me that my dad's father, who has battled with cancer in the past and beat it, recently went to the doctor and was told that he more than likely had developed more cancer more severely and in more places than before. He had a biopsy a few days ago, the results of which are still unknown. Throughout all of this, my grandfather asked for his children to not be told. A close family friend contacted my mother and informed her of this development. Our family doesn't keep secrets from each other, especially not ones as important and life changing as this, so she shared the information with my dad, my brother, and now myself.
Sitting there on the phone with my mother at 5:10 a.m., listening to her choke up and almost cry as she talked, I was somewhat surprised over what I felt. Most people would probably feel worried or heartbroken or terrified over the prospect of losing a loved one. I didn't. In fact, I almost felt elated over the matter. I had played this scenario over in my head so many times over the last four or five years, and I had always assumed that I would still feel sad and would still probably cry about it. I never really imagined that I would really actually be happy that my grandfather might have cancer.
But in a way, I'm proud of myself. See I don't really think my grandfather is a good person. I believe that once upon a time he was and that during that time we truly loved each other the way a family was meant to. But that changed after my grandmother died. It wasn't a particularly pretty death either. She was a heavy smoker and eventually lung cancer claimed her. It was hard to watch her waste away. It was really hard on everyone. It was hard on my dad especially. She was his mom, and she was an incredible woman. It was also the first time I really remember having to deal with the death of a loved one. I had nightmares after that. I would lie awake at night terrified over what would happen if my parents died. Over time, I learned to deal with it. We all did. Most of us did. It was hard for my grandfather. He lost his wife, the mother of his children, and his constant companion. I think I understood that things would take time to return to any kind of state even barely resembling "normal", but what came next was almost two decades worth of emotional pain.
My grandfather grew more distant in the years that followed. It was a bit harder to get a hold of him for the weekly phone call my dad always made. I found it harder to talk to him because it didn't seem like he really knew much about what was going on in my life anymore. But I knew he was still thinking of us. I got a call every year on my birthday and other holidays. He sent me cards with thoughtful messages on those special occasions as well. That's how I knew he cared. He took the time to do those things and that meant more to me than you could possibly imagine.
When I started the fifth grade, my parents told me that he had started dating a woman around his age. Part of me didn't understand yet that it's possible to find love again after losing it, but truthfully I was happy for him. I knew he had felt lonely after my grandmother had passed and I was excited that he found someone who made him happy. They even came to visit us that year and she brought me a couple of those Webkinz stuffed animals that were so popular at the time. I named one of them after her too because I like her so much. I didn't know then that the start of their relationship was going to be the end of ours.
Time went on and my grandfather because even more elusive. He was constantly spending time with his girlfriend and her family. Don't get me wrong, I think it was important for him too because their getting together meant that our two families were going to get meshed together too. But my dad went from speaking to his father every week to once every couple of months if he was lucky. It was hard for me to watch. We would run to the store Sunday morning to pick up a few groceries and, when we got home, my dad would go into his office and close the door so he could call his dad. Almost every week, he'd come back out after a couple minutes to inform us that he was busy doing other things with his girlfriend.
I was really confused. I didn't understand how it was possible that things could have changed so drastically. I didn't understand how a family that was supposed to love each other so much couldn't find the time to have a ten minute phone conversation. As I grew older and began to learn more about what constitutes a healthy a relationship, I found myself being more and more disgusted with my grandfather's behavior. Here was his son, fighting tooth and nail to maintain their relationship, and he couldn't be bothered to lift a finger to help. He barely spoke to my mother. He stopped sending my brother and I presents on our birthdays and on holidays. I don't particularly care about the gift, but the cards stopped too. The ones we did get didn't have thoughtful messages inside anymore. Instead they just bore his name and his girlfriend's name hastily scrawled at the bottom of the card. I found I could no longer stand the way he treated my family. I've never personally cared much when people slight me, but my parents and my brother were worth so much more than the minuscule amount of attention he deigned to give us.
I remember the first time they told me he had cancer. It was in his jaw and they had to do surgery to help him get better. At the time I feigned worry and sadness. I hoped that this experience would encourage him to reach out to my dad and work to foster the bond between them. I was terribly disappointed. About a year after his recovery, my parents took me and my brother to visit him. While we were there, my mother asked if he had any old family photos of my dad as a kid. Looking around his house, every picture on the wall was of his girlfriend's family. Not a single picture of his children or his grandchildren was on display. Instead they were all stuffed in a box in the basement behind the bar. That was the moment.
In that moment, any love I may have felt for my grandfather evaporated. Poof. Gone. It was like our entire family had been erased from his life. I'll never really understand why. I don't care to understand why because to me there is no acceptable reason.
Sitting there on the phone with my mother at 5:10 a.m., listening to her choke up and almost cry as she talked, I was somewhat surprised over what I felt. Most people would probably feel worried or heartbroken or terrified over the prospect of losing a loved one. But here's the thing, I wasn't losing a love one. I was losing a man who had lost any love I had for him years ago. I might lose a man who has done nothing but hurt the people I care about most. After he got cancer the first time, I imagined how I might respond if the diagnosis came again and came worse. Part of me told myself I wouldn't care, but I held out hope that maybe I could still find it in myself to show forgiveness and love to my grandfather. Today I learned that there isn't room for that within me anymore. The only thing that saddens me is that my dad may be left never really understanding how his father could have treated him so poorly.
I'm not proud to say it, but I'm happy.