"A Piece of Joy" by Mai R
When I was three-years-old, my dad was diagnosed with histiocytic sarcoma. I was too young to understand what that meant, but my family’s world quickly started to revolve around chemotherapy, radiation, and seemingly all corners of Mass General Hospital. Over the next few years, I added more terms to my vocabulary that set me apart from other toddlers: remission, relapse, and hospital food court. My dad fought with his blood cancer for two years before passing away when I was five. He died in the middle of the night at home where he was most comfortable and loved.
I don’t think I was fully capable of understanding death at that age, but I liked to think I did. I helped pick out the Life is Good t-shirt that my dad wore when the hearse took him away. And I prided myself in knowing everything a five-year-old could about cremation, fascinated by the white cardboard box full of ashes that arrived in my parents’ bedroom.
I’ve always heard that his cancer, an extremely rare variant, was just a stroke of bad luck. He left behind three bad-luck-bearers: my mom, my brother, and me. Our lives became unprecedented territory, but my brother and I were in the middle of growing up with no other option than to push forward. So at five years old, one chapter of my life closed, and a new one began.
I didn’t realize that my dad was dying during those years because his presence always brought me pure, unfaltering joy. I was giddy to help him walk our three rescue dogs early each morning when our great-dane-mix was really walking me. He would make me cinnamon apple oatmeal at any hour when I couldn’t sleep, and I remember eating my one-minute-oats at midnight feeling rebellious and invincible. Even in his hospital room, he could make fun out of nothing; we spent hours in hysterical laughter, entertaining ourselves with yo-yos and little plastic cups of hospital ice cream.
It’s been twelve years since my dad’s death, and it’s hardest to think about how much of my life I’ve lived without him. He never saw my first day of kindergarten or middle school or high school. He never got to hear me play my violin, or watch me learn to drive. And he’ll continue to miss more as I keep living. At 17 years old, I have more memories of my life without him than the time when he was alive.
It’s easy to fall down the hole and think of everything my dad is missing; the list goes on and on. Sometimes I worry that I’m losing my connection to him as my memories become distant, but I’ve learned to remember this: my dad gave me his joy. I’m closest to him when I’m laughing, and I think of him whenever I can replicate that oatmeal-at-midnight feeling. I’ll never fully lose him because I’ll always have a piece to hold onto.
So I look for the places and people that bring me his joy. I am beyond lucky to have found Circle Camps; it brought me both. Sweden, Maine provided a special corner of this planet where I could still find happiness. When my mom loaded me onto the Circle Camps coach bus for the first time, I wanted nothing to do with it. But a single mom is a strong mom, so I was going to end up at camp no matter how hard I kicked and screamed. My worries were for naught; I fell in love with camp immediately, comforted by the glittering blanket of stars and lulled into a dizzy daze after rolling down the massive hill. I met lifelong friends–girls whose words I really believed when they claimed to understand my loss. And together, we were joyous. We screamed out Lizzie McGuire songs breathlessly as the tube zigged-zagged us across the lake at full speed. We played gaga-ball more fiercely than ever before, fueled by dirt pudding and camp spirit. Every day was freeing, peaceful, perfect.
Circle Camps became my safe space and my haven: a place to exude the happiness I used to feel with my dad, surrounded by pine trees, loons, and loved ones. My eight years to date at Circle at Tapawingo can’t be described as anything but complete bliss; it is my sincerest wish for everyone to find a place like Circle Camps that will fill you with happiness until you’re whole.
I choose to find joy in every day because it keeps me grounded, safe, and strong. When I find my own joy, it brings me closer to my dad. I feel his presence, his laugh, and his love. It’s a simple reminder that even years after his death, I’ll never lose him. He will stay with me today, tomorrow, a year from now, always. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been without your parent. A piece of them is a piece of you, and you’ll carry them with you wherever you go.
“All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” -Helen Keller