Thursday, October 16, 2008

Rented Space: The Seventh Sacrament

[Today we have Clair joining us as a guest poster, renting the space to talk about some big stuff weighing on her mind. Thanks in advance for your support.]

It's rare to meet somebody within the Catholic Church who has received all seven Sacraments. The first ones, Baptism, Reconciliation or Confession, Eucharist, and Confirmation, are pretty standard among practicing Catholics. The Sacraments of Marriage and Holy Orders (becoming a priest, brother, or nun), are generally an either-or choice. Few people enter the clergy and then leave to get married, or marry and then take religious vows. My dad has done both.

And, for the second time in the past year, he's received the Anointing of the Sick. The more traditional name for this Sacrament is the Last Rites, as it's often administered to people near the end of their lives. My dad isn't, at least not yet, but he's not well. His cancer has spread significantly. And while he is trying to be upbeat and the whole family is trying to stay positive, the prognosis is not good.

I was home a few weeks ago visiting with friends from San Francisco, giving them the full tour of NYC and spending some time with my family. We had a tremendous trip, and I'm so glad my friends and I were able to travel together and that I could show them something of my hometown. My vacation was fabulous and I wouldn't have traded it for anything, but being home was so very hard. The pale and fatigued old man who sat on the couch watching TV, whose face is so thin now that his resemblance to his mother is eerie, that man broke my heart into tiny little pieces. There were vestiges of my dad in our conversations, in his jovial personality, in his enjoyment of pizza or a chocolate donut when he was feeling well enough to eat, but not all of him is there right now, and I don't think he'll ever really come back.

I can’t write about this on my own blog, because my sister isn’t ready to face reality yet, but I see the reality of dad's health, and it's really, really scary. I’m not writing this looking for sympathy, or to exploit my dad and his illness. Maybe I’m looking for support, for some help in navigating this overwhelming path. Maybe I just need to know that others out there have walked in my shoes, and that they made it through this journey. I feel so alone right now, forced to be happy and upbeat and to pretend like everything’s fine, when inside I feel so much less than whole.

It's not death that scares me. My faith is strong and I don't question that the man of the seven Sacraments, one of my prime examples of living a life of faith, has a pretty direct path to Heaven. It's everything that gets left behind that I'm worried about. It's that my sister and brother can't spend 10 minutes together right now without being nasty to each other and anyone else caught in their path. It's that my mom is dealing with so much already that she can't handle everything. It's knowing that my brother is scared and angry and upset, and that his anger is manifesting in nasty exchanges with my dad, and that he'd regret for the rest of his life their last conversation being a mean one. It’s worries that my tenuous connection to members of my dad’s family might snap after he’s gone. And it's also, quite selfishly, that I'm not quite ready to envision my life without my dad. I’m 31 years old, but I'm not ready to be that much of a grown up just yet. But I recognize that I don't have any choice.

The one small beauty in his cancer diagnosis is that it will give us time. We don’t know how much, but we’ll have the luxury of saying goodbye, of remembering every story we want to tell and every act we want to apologize for and every piece of family history we want to document while he’s still well. We’ll have time to plan and to laugh and to cry, and time to tell him we love him.

I hope I’ll also have the time, and the courage, to tell him it’s ok. That it’s ok to let go when the pain becomes too intense and the struggle becomes too hard. I want to believe that we’ll all be ok without him. But right now, I just don’t know if that’s the truth.


Mrs. Chili said...

This is likely going to come off sounding selfish, but I truly believe that the only person you can really care for right now is YOU.

While I understand that you fear for the ways in which your mother and siblings are handling (or not) this situation, you cannot - let me repeat that; CAN NOT - be responsible for how they do or do not fare as a result of this experience.

Everyone has their own path to tread, and the truth of the matter is that even those closest to us may have VERY different paths than ours. It's not for you to decide if your brother uses this experience as a means of coming to terms with his anger or letting it consume him. You have no control over whether your sister and brother choose to be civil to one another or never speak to one another again. More to the point, you have NO OBLIGATION to put on a happy face for everyone else. YOU get to choose how you handle this experience, and forcing yourself onto a path that is not your own for the sake of other people isn't going to get you to where you need to be.

The support that I would give you would be to release your expectations of yourself as they apply to others. The ONLY person you can control is you. You need to experience this authentically, or you will have learned nothing from it. While I don't subscribe to any religion, I will say that I don't think that your God - OR your dad - would want you to force yourself to be something you're not, or to pretend that this is something that it isn't. Do what you need to do to approach something resembling wholeness. Your first responsibility is to yourself. Once you're properly caring for yourself, THEN you can start worrying about being a help to others.



Still Jill B said...

The support I can offer is that I relate. My grandfather (a lot like a father to me) is going through it (we've already had two "rush home right now" weekends), and not everyone is ready or willing to consider that things are going downhill - so I don't blog about it on my blog, either.

I don't have The answers, but I do have prayers.

Sara said...

Oh sweets,
First, I'm so sorry! So sorry.

Second, I understand, I may not know how you feel exactly (and don't pretend too) but I've been down similar roads.

First my aunt, who was more like a mother to me, my mom worked long hours and my ant stayed home, so I'd go to her house after school and on no school days etc.

She boarded flight 5191 2 years ago, 12 hours after our last conversation, and crashed to her death at the end of the runway.

It has been the hardest two years of my life, but, where in the beginning I really thought we wouldn't survive. I thought our family would fall apart. I thought I'd die from to pain of losing her, I didn't. You won't.

Sure things are really different without her. The first thanksgiving and christmas were terrifying because we'd always had the big family get together at her house, and suddenly I had to step in (at 24, with two young kids) and take her place. I invited the family, cooked the large meals, bought small gifts, organized the get togethers.

Amazingly we talked about her, and while tears were common we even laughed some. It's still hard now, there still honestly isn't a day I go through without thinking about her, wishing I could call her and tell her something, etc.

Secondly, I'm watching my best friend go through with her mother that you're going through with your father. Her cancer has metastisied from her breast to her brain. My friend is more like your sister, not ready to face reality, her mother, bless her heart looks so bad, and the prognosis is not good.

You'll be in my prayers. Your father had done well preparing you for life. You'll be okay. Even when it doesn't feel like it.

Wolf Lover Girl said...

I'm so sorry to hear what you are going through. No it's not easy - I went through it twice. My mom passed away in June of this year finally loosing her battle with breast cancer. My Mother-In-Law lost her battle with cancer about 4 years ago.

I had my good and bad days as I watched her health and body fail. And these days are the same. But I remember the last good days that I was able to spend with her. For example the last really good day was Mothers Day.

The big holidays are coming up so it might be harder. Although I did just make it through her birthday this last Saturday.

I agree with Mrs. Chili... you do what you have to do for you. Good luck to you. It's not easy but you'll be fine.

~ Wolf Lover Girl

Clair said...

My thanks to all of you. I've now gotten the warning to focus on taking care of myself from several people, and taking a step back to remember that had been so helpful.

I'll be visiting my parents in a few weeks, and having made those plans makes me feel a little better.