My dad was diagnosed with cancer when I was in fourth grade. His body visibly deteriorated within three years. The hardest part was hearing him apologize for being sick.
I watched the strongest person in my life become the weakest person.
My mom had to spend a lot of time at the hospital with my dad, so I became independent at an early age. I have vivid memories of my twin sister and me learning how to prepare dinner for ourselves.
I was very lucky to have my sister, who is also my best friend. We navigated those dark waters together. Even now, I look back on that time and think about how fortunate I was to have someone who understood completely what I was going through. We needed each other. None of our friends could relate to our situation.
When my dad died, I almost didn’t understand what was happening. I remember feeling like his death was something that had to be managed tactically. We had to make arrangements and figure out finances, so I had to be strong. He had also been suffering for years. When he died, I felt relieved that his pain had ended.
It has brought me new perspective, and now I can empathize with others who experience hardship
Throughout my dad’s illness, my mom was the keystone of our family. She still is. She epitomizes grace. I think my older brother, my sister, and I began building our resilience at an early age because of the example she set for us. She was always very honest about our situation and pushed us to be autonomous.
Decades later, I was working in the heart of the New York financial district on September 11. That day was traumatic in a way that was similar to my father’s death. Having been through adversity at a young age, I knew I could be strong. Just as I was after my dad died.
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I look back at both moments as events that shaped me and made me different from others. They have given me new perspective, and now I can empathize with others who experience hardship.
I have come out the other side intact.
Through family, friends, reflection, and speaking about these events out loud, I understand that this is what life is made up of. It’s the big sad events, right alongside the big happy events.
Sylvia Yam is a daughter, sister, twin, wife, and business development executive for e-commerce companies, currently based in Washington DC. Her past experience includes JPMorgan, Yahoo, Tiny Prints, Shutterfly, Sincerely, FTD and Framebridge.
Image Credit: Norman Jean Roy