[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.