The strangest thing about having an ill parent, isn’t necessarily your anger towards the illness, but the way people treat you. If you haven’t read the first part of this story, you might want to here.
During my Father’s first 5 months of his diagnosis. He had entered a new position, and was high up in the Foreign Service as he already had two big Ambassador posts under his belt by the time he was 50. He made me promise to never discuss his cancer to anyone, he didn’t want it to get back to anyone at Head Quarters. I agreed, I always did, but this time, I didn’t understand the consequences.
When you reach a certain level, people are cut throat about jobs. The competition is scary, and when someone is ill, vultures circle. My Father had already unpacked his office, put up photos, and personalized his space. He had been taking days off here and there for treatment. No one really knew what was going on, until he had to go into quarantine for radiation treatment.
At that point, the knives came out. Those who fawned over my Father when he was healthy, began to come out wanting his job, even if it were temporary. In many ways, I understood, work still had to get done, but the degree to which it was executed was shocking.
Halfway through my Father’s radiation, I came home. My Father was home in between rounds of treatments. I wasn’t supposed to hug him, but I did. At this stage, he rarely got out of bed, the radiation took too much out of him.
My Mother got a call from his office. She was notified by his “temporary replacement” to go pick up a box of my Father’s things. Instead of crying or telling my Father. She growled, whispered to me she was heading out. She was dressed in a full suit, and ready to kill her prey.
A couple of hours later, she arrived back. My Father was taking a nap. She said that bitch that was sitting in My Father’s office wanted her to take Dad’s box of personal items. My Mother took one look at her and said “My Husband is not dead, he still has this job, and this is his office. I think you need to take a few lessons on Diplomacy, as you are not the same rank as my husband, nor will you ever be. You disgrace this country with your callous and cheap way of getting a job.” with that, she left all of my Father’s stuff in the office, and told everyone she knew in the building (which was everyone), just how disgusted she was with my Father’s temporary replacement.
My Mother rarely defended us even as kids, she would often recall that she did, but we always knew better. My Mother was and is always terrified of rocking the boat. Something changed the moment my Father got cancer, she decided to fight for him until the very end.
No matter where my Father went, he was looked at with sorrow, pitty, and discomfort. No one saw the man he really was, which was a seasoned Diplomat, a top negotiator for his country, and a Father. He was seen as a Cancer Patient. At 19, I watched my Father have everyone in the Diplomatic service turn their backs on him. Very few people came to visit the house, no one wanted to be reminded, and no one wanted to see just how ill he was. My Mother and I built a safe cocoon, and attempted to make life as normal as possible for our beloved dying Father and husband.
2 days after my Father passed away, I walked back into that office building and was escorted to my Father’s office. I gathered his personal items that my Mother had torn a strip off of his replacement over. As I carried the items out, every last staff in the hallways lined the way to shake my hand. Not to say how sorry they were, but to say how grateful they were to have known and to have worked for my Father.
It was that day, even though I was in blackness, I knew I would have to come back to these hallways to get to know the man they all knew, and I didn’t.