Early this year, when we found out my father’s prostate cancer had metastised to his bones, we were shocked. Just three months before he had seen a neurologist for his back pain and been sent home with pain killers for a hernia. He suffered enormously through Christmas and the first months of the year, only to be told his cancer had metastised and, well, sorry for the mistake. Fortunately his oncologist was truly shocked at the neurologist’s negligence but that did not really help to soften the blow, of course.
A series of chemotherapy treatments was prescribed. Palliative, as my father was beyond the stage of healing at that point, but it was hoped the cancer would go into remission.
My fourteen year old son lost his father when he was six and his grandfather became the man he talked to, so he was devastated at the news. I wanted to do something with him that would help him feel a little more in control of the situation. So we decided to make my father a medicine bag filled with the love and encouragement we wanted to send him.
My son took an old leather bag we had bought on a wonderful family vacation with my parents and siblings and all our children. He set to work with scissors, a needle and thread and painstakingly and lovingly made a small leather bag. We picked a mother of pearl button from my collection, which I inherited from my favourite grandmother, and I braided some of my favourite wool into a necklace from which to hang it.
He also carefully filled a little glass bottle with gold flakes and mountain crystal. I sewed a little pillow from fabric cut from a nightgown worn by both my daughters and filled it with lavender flowers and attar of rose. A little string of seed beads from my grandmother was remade with a silver bead my daughters used to play with. We each picked a stone at a mineral shop and wrapped it in a pretty scrap of golden fabric. And finally, each of us wrote or drew something on a colourful heart symbolising our love for (grand)father.
I am not sure what my father felt when he received the bag through my mother because he never told us. He is not very good at expressing his emotions. But the bag went with him to every chemo session Obviously he was not healed but several months onward he is doing well and his doctor is happy with the results.
Now the cynics among you may ask: Did you really think he would be healed? And I can honestly answer: No, I didn’t. My intention was not to heal him, but to make the whole ordeal of going through chemo and illness more bearable for both him and my children. It was to sustain my father and give him hope, to offer him something to hold on to while he was allowing the hospital to poison his body so that he might live longer. And to help him accept that he is not going to be healed, but that he will be loved and cherished throughout the time that remains.
My intention was also to allow my son to put his love and immense pain into something beautiful and constructive. While he may be helpless in the face of disease and death, he has all his love and his wonderful creativity that can help him express, and work though, these feelings. I hoped to help him understand that he is, therefore, not helpless in the face of his emotions.
I believe in the healing power of love. I also believe in accepting what comes with as much dignity and love as we can muster. This is what I learned when I became a widow at 34: Sometimes we must fight with all the force we have in us, and sometimes we must bow to the inevitable. The only thing we can really control is the way we ourselves deal with our experiences, and we must do so with all the kindness, love and gratitude we can muster.