I’m sure many of you have wondered where I was able to find the motivation to adopt and maintain the – how should I put it – chipper as fuck attitude about a life-threatening cancer diagnosis. I’ve been asking myself the same thing and it didn’t take me long to realize where came from: my father’s example.
My dad, Robert “Bob” Hornyak, died almost exactly a year ago from ALS. If the massive self-inflicted waterboarding campaign for ALS didn’t educate you enough, ALS is a degenerative nerve disease that basically shuts down your brain’s ability to communicate with your body. Essentially you slowly lose the ability to control the movements and functions of your body, both voluntary and involuntary. Eventually your mind becomes a solitary confinement prisoner in the deepest cell of your body’s dungeon, where nobody can hear you scream.
My dad was a very physical person all his life. He grew up milking cows, had a technical job, built our house, gardened, landscaped, was a craftsman multiple times over and was never content being physically idle. As you can imagine, the fact that he lost the ability to be productive, let alone move, was the most disastrous thing that could have happened to his feeling of self identity and worth. Towards the end of his struggle with ALS, he could barely do anything at all for himself and relied completely on my mother (humanity’s #1 superstar), my sister (a quiet angel), and a slew of other caretakers.
My point is that his life totally fucking SUCKED for about a year, and guess how he handled it – like the world’s most badass boss, that’s how. Sure he had his down moments, as I will, but through the vast majority of his tribulations he held onto his dignity and positive attitude, and he never once complained. He was dealt a hand so shitty that even the dogs wouldn’t play poker with the cards, but he NEVER COMPLAINED. He never said “Why me??” He never cursed the heavens or damned his creator or lashed out at those around him or consciously did anything to push his suffering onto anybody else. He handled his trial like a saint.
I had the pleasure (not sarcastic at all) of providing him with care for about a week when I was home for the holidays, shortly before he died. It was the last time I saw him. I can’t claim to understand even a fraction of what my sister and mother went through, but I did get a glimpse of what needed to be done – and it wasn’t pretty. I’m glad I was able to help out (even though it was only for a small amount of time, due to my living 1,700 miles away) and talk to him during the last days of his life. I was blessed with the ability to gain complete closure with his departure as a result of the time I spent with him. I picked his brain, I asked him what he needed, I asked him if there was anything he needed to tell me, I asked him if he was proud of me, I asked him:
What do you want me to do,
to watch for you while you’re sleeping?
What do you want me to do,
to do for you to see you through?
The answers to those questions helped me release any negative feelings I had about his horrible situation and the fact that he was leaving us.
Now, a year later, as I sit in a mechanical hospital bed similar to his, I reflect on everything that he taught me during his ordeal and everything leading up to it. My attitude, strength of character, positive demeanor, good humor and will to persevere are my inheritance. This blog is dedicated to my dad because it wouldn’t exist without him.
For you, Dad: