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“I’ve come to realize that our time and the time we have with others are limited. We don’t have a choice.”

By Antonietta Gutierrez

When I was ten, my dad was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. For two years he was bounced around four hospitals, dependent on chemotherapy, cancer medications, and eventually radiation.

I still went to school, and my family still went out on weekends and celebrated birthdays and holidays between appointments, ER scares, and the sorrow of the palliative-care floor.

I never spoke to anyone about his illness. For two years, I never shed a tear or dared to ask questions when he would end up in a hospital bed.

In the beginning of 2014, doctors told us that the cancer had spread to his brain following an infection. I refused to believe he was going to die.

Before, we had been given timelines that he always lived through. Even when we weren't so sure, he always bounced back and came home. He still drove me to school, came to my soccer games, rode bikes with me, and took us to the beach. We didn't let cancer stop us from living.

That was back when I had hope.

He was transferred from Princess Margaret Cancer Centre to palliative care in November 2014. I now refer to this place as a "death sentence."

When all hope and reassurance dissipated, one doctor told us that with the right treatment he could walk in three months. He could come home, he could ride bikes with me, take me to the park, be my dad again.

Little did I know that this would never come true.

He deteriorated quickly. His speech started to slur, he lost all muscle strength, and eventually he couldn't recognize me. He made it to Christmas and New Year's.

But I wanted him to beat it. I had read and heard so many stories of people who went into remission despite all odds. Why couldn't he be one of them? He was healthy. He was active. He was the kindest human being you could ever meet. I loved him.

The day he died I didn't get to say good-bye. He passed away in my brother’s arms.

That night, for the first time in two years, I cried and cried until there weren't any more tears.

January 4, 2015, was the day I lost everything. Everything I was. Everything I believed in. My faith. God. My family. My hope.

That night, for the first time in two years, I cried and cried until there weren't any more tears.

Two years later, I still ask myself, Why? Every day without him is harder. Everywhere I go I can imagine him beside me. I look out into the sky and hope for a sign. I've never gotten one. I live with the guilt, pain, and regret of choosing to stay home that day.

When I "woke" to the physical and emotional pain of grief, I felt alone. I felt tired and weak all the time. I shut everyone out. I didn't know how to cope, so I hid. That isolation drove me to attempt suicide. I was thirteen.

I have started to open up about my grief. Through Camp Erin I found my voice in spite of tragedy. I started to meet and connect with other teenagers and adults who all had experienced grief. I realized that there was a whole community around me.

I turned my grief into motivation for everything I do. School, music, dance. I find peace in every little victory.

Grief is a lifetime contract. There is no such thing as closure, but there is peace. I can be happy and still grieve my loss. I can still live and feel the everyday pain of losing one of the two people you can never replace.

Even though two years have passed, nothing about my pain has changed. You can't put a timeline on how you grieve.

I envy those who have never lost loved ones. They're so lucky.

I have decided to change the way I see the world. When my father died I thought the world was a dark, miserable hurricane. I refused to see any light. That almost killed me.

You can't put a timeline on how you grieve.

But now, even without my dad by my side, the world is still a beautiful place. Because of my grief I've met lifelong friends and people who always inspire me.

Grief has given me strength in spite of adversity. I surround myself with family, friends, and school. My dad's memory lives on in the shared memories with my family and all the people who hear my story. I keep him alive through getting up every morning and living each day.

I still continue to face the pain in waves, but I'm not afraid to cry or scream. I will never understand why God took him away from me. But I can choose to be happy.

I try to find a rainbow every single day that gives me a reason to dream, hope, and live.

No matter how old you are, grief hurts everyone.

I've come to realize that our time and the time we have with others are limited. We don't have a choice. But we can live each day with purpose and love and hug those around us a little tighter.

Grief & Loss Building resilience Family Finding joy Loss of parent Suicide
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