Ten years ago, I was on a trip to Toronto from Vancouver when I received a message on my answering machine from my father who lived in England. It simply said “Can you call me?”.

What transpired next has stayed in my mind ever since and I have asked myself many questions to seek understanding. I believe I have found an answer.

My father told me on our phone call that he had prostate cancer, he had known for a couple of years and there was nothing more that could be done, the cancer was spreading. I felt extremely sad. It seemed we had both reached a point in our lives that we were closer and were able to communicate in a much more meaningful way.

It was what he said next that totally took me by surprise:   “I keep thinking “Why Me?””.

It’s hard to know what to reply to that. My father was 83 years old and if there is one certainty in life it’s that every one of us will eventually die.

“I don’t know what you’re asking me” I replied, feeling a little uncomfortable.

He told me that he had never taken a day off sick in his entire working life, he had played tennis at a competitive level, he had been fit and.. “I’m not ready to die yet”.

We talked for an hour and I told him that he had lived a full life, he had traveled often, he had been in good health, he was in a good relationship and he was wealthy; he had a life many would envy. Yet, I knew for him it was not enough.

Long after I watched him take his final breath at a hospice in England, I was still troubled by his question: “Why Me?”.

At some point many of us ask that exact same question when life is not going well or we can’t understand why problems recur.

Why are bad things happening to me?  What did I do to deserve this? Why doesn’t anything go right in my life? When will I get a break? Why do other people seem to have normal lives and I have to deal with this? Where did I go wrong? Why do relationships never work out? The world is going crazy, when will life change?

It’s rare that you hear anyone say “Why are all these good things happening to me?”, “Why am I fortunate compared to others?”, “Why is my life going well?”.

Please bear with me while I tell you why this question particularly hit home.

When my father asked the question, he knew that I had experienced hardships in my life at a younger age.

Before my father re-married, my parents were extremely unhappy together. They often fought in front of my sister, brother and me. My father hit my mother and my mother made excuses to her friends for bruises. Once he packed his suitcase and left – I was heartbroken, hating my mother for somehow causing him to leave! I was 10 years old, scared and confused.  My father had numerous affairs, sometimes resulting in admissions to my mother when she discovered them. On another occasion my mother received flowers from a sympathetic husband whose wife had been involved with my father. On many occasions, my brother and I waited in the family car while my father was in a house, involved in yet another affair. My mother was a stay-at-home mother, she was afraid of a future where she raised us on her own.. and that’s why she forgave him time after time.

I was often told by pupils at the school where my father was the Deputy Principal, that he was having an affair with a teacher there, I blew the rumurs off: “They’re just good friends, we often meet with her and her husband”.  I knew what I told myself and others wasn’t true, I had already seen them holding hands. Our family was watching a slide show of their family’s vacation and as I looked over in the darkened room, my father’s hand slid down the side of the sofa to touch and hold her hand as she was sitting on the floor. My mother was oblivious and I made myself oblivious.

The marriage finally broke down when I was 17, just as I was studying to take my final university entry exams.  My mother discovered photographs that my father had taken of the female teacher with him, naked. The photographs were taken in our house.. on the dining table.. on the sofa.. on my parents’ bed.  My mother wanted to forgive him again but my sister, brother and I knew this had to stop, we were sick of hearing from others about his affairs; we were tired of “turning a blind eye”, enough was enough. My mother got a lawyer.

Just as I thought it was all over, my father refused to move out of the house, he had previously insisted the mortgage and title should be solely in his name. My sister now lived in the U.S., my brother was home from university and soon returned, and my mother directed me not to talk to my father  For two years I lived in our “home” with my mother and father, listening to them shouting at one another and reading notes they left for each other as I studied for my final exams. I spent most of my time out at a friend’s or at the local pub, even though I was under-age.

Upon returning home late one evening, I noticed Dad’s girlfriend’s car parked in the lane behind our house. As soon as I entered the front door, I went straight upstairs to my bedroom and looked out the window facing the lane. I watched as my father sneakily left his makeshift bedroom downstairs and ran to the waiting car. He didn’t return until the following morning, when I heard him quietly lock the back door before my mother awoke. I kept it a secret, I couldn’t deal with listening to another shouting match but the day finally came when my mother discovered his absence and she locked the door before he returned from his night out. He broke it down and all hell broke loose downstairs.. again.

Of course, I failed my exams – who could study with that going on? My mother finally got a settlement and my sister, brother and I persuaded her to move back to Canada, where her extended family lived, she agreed. My father stayed in the house and married his girlfriend.

I moved to a different town in England. I’d met a college student and after moving in with him, he gained his Bachelor of Arts and we decided to marry and start a new life with my mother in Canada. He and I divorced seven years later, after he admitted to me that he had been with another woman, I was not going to relive my mother’s existence of “forgive and forget”.

There were a few boyfriends after that but I finally found happiness and love with a Canadian. Life seemed perfect. Four years later, we had a beautiful house, good jobs and a baby girl. But I could not help feeling that life was just a little too good. I was in the frame of mind “This is just too good to last” and it worried me.

Six months later, I was laid off my job and my daughter was in ICU with pneumonia.  Within a week I was told that my daughter had been diagnosed with AIDS and, after tests, I was diagnosed with HIV and my partner was uninfected. I was told I might live five years but my daughter would die within 2 years.  She died at our home three months after diagnosis and we kept her illness a secret for a long time because we feared stigma.

I fell into PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and my partner started to drink more.  Thirteen years passed and after walking on eggshells and wondering what I was doing wrong, I realized my partner (whom I had married) had become a verbally and physically abusive man. I knew in order to live longer I had to leave him.

Now, you might be able to understand why I was confused when my father said “Why Me?”  I just couldn’t believe his question when my daughter had died at nine months of age, barely alive before becoming ill, suffering a terrible death, and I had been diagnosed with a terminal illness at 35 years old. Even though I was able to move in a good direction by setting up a society for children and families with HIV, I still asked what could possibly be a sane reason for all of this?

Since then I have questioned over and over what the purpose and meaning of life is. Why does any child die without finding their life purpose? What if you have not found a purpose before you die at an old age? If our purpose it is to be happy and to serve others, why do some never get the chance to do that? How does a baby’s death have any meaning or purpose? Even if we go on to help others as a result of that death, how can any of it make sense or give true purpose? Why not help others anyway, why does a baby have to die?  What does purpose and meaning have to do with that kind of death?

I believe I have finally found an answer and it’s liberating.

We seek to gain control of our lives when we ask the question “Why me?”, especially at a time when life seems to be against us. We want to explain the past and find meaning in our future.

But what if there is no purpose and no meaning?

Can we concentrate on the now, on our present journey? Can we become courageous enough to say “OK, this is what I’m facing and I am going to live this experience without attaching myself to it, without living it over and over to make me who I am.” What if we say: “I understand that I cannot change this or look back on it with remorse, blame, shame, guilt, regret, feeling sorry for myself or remain attached to this feeling of dis-empowerment”? What great release comes from living today and realizing the only way we can move forward is to accept our life and journey, to be our best selves, find our courage, our strength, our understanding in what is now, not staying wrapped in our past, letting it go and be “the past”. To challenge ourselves to laugh, to smile, to realize that by holding on to the bad, we are not allowing ourselves to experience the good.

In the years since my father’s death, I have learned to appreciate my life in a whole new way. I knew I had been missing the beauty right in front of me. About six years ago, I used my cell phone to start taking photographs again, I had stopped after my baby’s death. I photographed Okanagan Lake, streams and rivers, sunsets, reflections, shadows, my dog. Then I was given a digital camera by a friend whom I will be forever grateful to.  Another friend showed me the beauty of Alberta on a freezing day. I knew that photography was allowing me to be present, in the moment.  Bees buzzed, hummingbirds hovered, a gate opened to a misty morning. There was a snowstorm that coated everything with a blanket of sparkling white, there were downed power lines that were supplying electricity, which I had taken for granted, strong trees toppled under the weight of snowflakes – unexpected and powerful. I focused my lens on nature in all its present glory and I stopped searching for answers.

I had finally found that my journey had landed me in the present and I accepted what was, what I could not change. I had grown and life demanded me to engage, be strong and show patience. To start living life and accept the bad and the good, to stop asking “Why Me?” and to stand up, step up and clearly know “I’m not going to die, I’m going to live every day”.

Have you ever asked “Why Me?” like I did? Are you holding onto something from the past and not living in the present? Is the past who you have become and what drives your life now? It’s hard but maybe it needs thinking about.

Are you living or dying?

Leave a Reply