Just a few years ago I was a stereotypical teenager. Everything was about "me." I wasn't interested in anyone else or their needs. I often neglected my family because time with my friends seemed more important. Family dinners were a burden and vacations a punishment.
That all changed when I unexpectedly became a caregiver for my dad. It was the summer before my senior year of high school. My dad was diagnosed with leukemia. He would have to move to Seattle for treatment, and I would have to go to watch over him. My mom had to take care of my two younger siblings, and my older sister, Jennifer, was away at school. I was the only one who could do it.
I remember a lot of what happened that summer, but one of the most impactful moments happened when I got the most lost I’ve ever been in my life.
My dad and I were driving in Seattle, ceaselessly trying to find a restaurant. I had no idea where I was going, and I felt helpless and frustrated. It was there, while I sat in the driver’s seat, that my dad showed me how to steer my life in a new direction.
He sensed my anxiety and asked if I was upset with him. He was concerned about my feelings even when I was angry over nothing. His simple inquiries softened my heart and opened my eyes. I was overreacting to the small disappointments in life, the situations I couldn’t control.
My dad and I became friends that night.
From then on, our days were happily shared poking fun at doctors, talking to every stranger we encountered, sorting medicines and testing blood sugars. Every day, my dad and I turned our backs on cancer and opened our eyes to life.
That summer, we lived our lives to the fullest. We talked about our hopes for the future and our recollections of the past. I treasured each moment, whether it was a car ride to the hospital, a friendly conversation with a nurse, or my dad’s company at the dinner table.
It’s hard to pinpoint when I went from jaded teenager to a person who was intensely involved in the world. It seemed so absurd: how could I be happier now, in a strange place with my cancer-ridden father, than I had been in my comfortable suburban lifestyle?
Caring for someone else helped me to realize that we can’t make it alone. I felt needed, and I wanted to be there for someone. Not only my dad, but for anyone.
My dad lost his battle with cancer less than a year after doctors diagnosed him. But I’ll never give up my title as a caregiver.
Every single day we make choices. We can isolate ourselves, concerned only with our own happiness, or we can inspire. We can encourage. We can empower.
I believe in caring. Nowadays I don’t worry about the little disappointments in life. I worry about what’s important. I make sure to always express my love, and I help others. From community service to just helping a friend with her writing, I believe in being present and in caring.