Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Four Percent Club

Ten years ago, I watched and cried with the rest of the world over the coverage of Princess Diana's death.

However, at the time, I was crying as a kid who didn't yet know what it was like to lose a parent at a young age. I was simply crying because this was Princess Diana, whom I was named after, and she was gone, so suddenly and tragically. I was also crying for Harry and William, but I didn't yet really know their pain.

Yesterday, I watched and cried as Prince Harry eulogized his mother as his older brother listened, bowing his head sadly. This time, I was crying as somebody who knows all too well what it feels like to lose a parent before you reach adulthood. It is something you honestly cannot comprehend until it happens to you.

My father was diagnosed with cancer only months after Princess Diana's accident, and would be gone a year after that. I had just turned seventeen the week before he died. It has been over eight years, and I still feel the pain of losing my dad every day of my life and, as much as I try not to, am constantly wondering, "What if?"...how differently would my life had turned

I remember reading that four percent of people lose a parent before they reach the age of twenty. When I heard that, I remember wondering what exactly I DID to deserve a spot in such a dreaded, exclusive club.

It is really odd how immediately connected I feel with others I know have been in similar situations as I have been...even with complete strangers...Anthony Rapp, one of the original stars of Rent, published his memoir a couple of years ago. It focused on his rise to fame with the ground-breaking show, but also of his mother's long, brave battle with cancer. So much of his book clicked with me, and I felt such a kindred spirit with Anthony. I found myself reading the book on the train and constantly having to pause and regain my composure before I could continue reading.

Singer/songwriter/pianist (the boy does it all), Peter Cincotti seems to have grown-up in a close-knit New York City Italian-American family similar to mine. When he was a teenager, his father died of a heart attack while Peter was performing. Peter has a song called "He's Watching", inspired by his father's death. I've listened to it multitudes of times, and feel like I could have written it myself.

Throughout the months following my father's death, I would have many days when I just wanted to cry nonstop and scream at my friends, "You have no idea what I am going through!" They truly didn't. Their biggest problems at the moment involved proms and football games and SATs. Sure, some of them had experienced deaths in the family, but they were of grandparents and great-grandparents. (I never knew three of my grandparents, let along my great-grandparents.) When people would tell me they knew JUST what I was going through because their 98-year-old great-grandma had died the year before, I honestly wanted to shake them, as well-meaning as they were. It is truly not the same. A grandparent's death doesn't change your daily life or the course of your future, as I feel my father's death did.

In fact, I found that the only people who understood what I was going through were the very few classmates I had who had also lost parents...I'll never forget what it felt like to be able to talk to them. When we got a new "school psychologist", I remember crying in her office after one of my many breakdowns after my dad died. She told me that she lost her dad when she was fifteen. My sister had gotten close to a girl who lost her dad two years before our dad died. (She will be one of my sister's bridesmaids in two weeks...bonds like that are very hard to break.)

My father's death changed my life...I used to feel like it ruined it as well, then realized it could only ruin it if I let it. I know my dad is still with us, because I can feel it, and for all the members of The Four Percent Club, I offer my thoughts and prayers. We're all in this together, after all.

Peter Cincotti He's Watching Lyrics
(Music & Lyrics by Peter Cincotti)

Within the darkened skies above I see a sign
Within the distant clouds I see a friend of mine
And then as the shadows disappear
He smiles at me
And I know
He's watching

He lives within the heaven
And he lives within my mind
All I can feel is the love he left behind
Then he will whisper in my ear
He tells me, I should know he's watching

And now I'm grown
I'm strengthened by the tears I've never shown
I'm strengthened by the years I've never known
Once afraid of facing them alone
And every day I always have some place to go
I've travelled very far from the life I used to know
But still when I close my eyes and dream
I feel him near and I know
He's watching

And now I'm grown
I'm strengthened by the tears I've never shown
I'm strengthened by the years I've never known
Once afraid of facing them alone
And every day I always have some place to go
I've travelled very far from the life I used to know
But still when I close my eyes and dream
I feel him near and I know

He's watching
He's watching
He's watching
He's watching
He's watching

Diana Rissetto