My dad died five years ago last week. He died of lung cancer, though he had quit smoking over 13 years before he passed. I would like to share some of the things I’ve learned in dealing with his illness, his passing, and my life since:
-Stress is a part of life, and having a constructive outlet to process the stress and trauma experienced is essential to maintaining mental and physical health. Arts are healing, especially when the work tells your story, and you share that work with your community/family/friends. If my dad had integrated into his life a creative outlet that allowed him to share his story, I think he would have lived for a few more years at least, and would have been way happier. Unfortunately he came from a culture where repression of feelings is the norm, and thus never felt comfortable expressing (or even investigating) his deeper issues.
-Children unconsciously inherit the traumas of their parents, especially if the parents have accumulated stress without a constructive outlet for it. All the material comforts and luxuries provided still will not insulate a child’s psyche from the influences of his/her environment. These children then grow up burdened with the baggage of traumas past, possibly passing their trauma onto their own children, and continuing the cycle of stress and violence. To break this cycle, our lives must allow for us to express ourselves honestly and without fear of judgment, and integrating opportunities to be honestly expressive into the lives of young people is essential for a healthier society.
-The passing of a parent is a regular rite of passage into adulthood. It is the way things are meant to go according to the cycle of life. However, illness and suffering are unnecessary, and we should aim to live lives that avoid burdening our children or caretakers from having to take care of us as sick people.
-After your parents pass away, you have an opportunity to re-invent yourself as a new type of adult. Maturity generally peaks as a person becomes a member of the oldest living generation of their family. Though losing a close family member can be traumatic, it is also an opportunity to free yourself from constraints and expectations that have been put upon you since infancy that you may have lived with unconsciously.
My father was a great man in his accomplishments, especially given that his life started in conflict, and that he grew up in refugee camps until early adulthood. He provided the utmost for his family, and was a radical in his attempts to steer our world into a sustainable path. I have had the privilege of a well-rounded education (which I am very grateful that my parents insisted my brothers and I have access to), and have discovered what I need to do to heal myself from those inherited traumas, so I am hoping to continue my family tradition of being an agent for radical, constructive change in our world.