A New Perspective
In January 1996, I took three days off from my job as a reporter for the South Bend Tribune to interview my father about his life. It was my first foray into what today is my work with Life Stories.
During those days on the farm where I grew up, I learned about my father's life growing up in that same place. I also learned just how sick he was at that time. He was dealing with three kinds of cancer (lung cancer, skin cancer and leukemia) and, I know in retrospect, had been particularly depressed since being unable to help with the harvest the preceding fall for the first time in his life. When he took a break from our interviews to go to the bathroom, he could walk only into the next room, the kitchen, before needing to sit down to catch his breath.
That was my yesterday. After several days of throwing up and light eating, walking from one room to another totally wore me out. My breathing became labored and I had to sit down to regroup. This continued all day and aggravated me to no end.
For my father, it continued for months. Four months after our interviews — 19 years ago today — my father died. He was only 75. I think it is accurate to say he died of cancer, but that is the sanitized version and I have never proclaimed it. In fact, he took his own life. His pain had been ongoing, and his yearslong depression had never been diagnosed. He was a man of faith, but his tolerance for physical and emotional pain had its limits.
My father was one of my favorite people and probably has had the biggest influence on my life of anyone. Experiencing my own mini version of his frailty yesterday enlightened me in new ways.