My father came home from the hospital last night, and his prognosis is uncertain. While I feel a deep sense of peace with the decision to bring him home and prioritize his quality of life, I struggle to express that peace meaningfully, especially with my children. I find that I am a pillar of strength except for the moments when I am not. This is a list of things to remember in the midst of uncertainty.
The short version:
Stay true to the Coach Taylor principle: Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. Even when you are, by definition, losing.
The long version:
If your goal is to avoid death, you will eventually be disappointed.
Don’t give in to the temptation to turn grief into outrage. Every death is painful for someone, but not every death is an injustice. We’ve gotten so many good years with our dad; some people never know their fathers; some people’s fathers die much younger; some people’s fathers live to 101. Saying it’s not fair that your dad is dying is like saying it’s not fair that the stone you picked up isn’t a bird.
You are going to have a lot of feelings. Some will be new and unfamiliar. Some will be in contradiction: You want more time, but you wish the end would come sooner. You will worry that this is shameful or inappropriate, but it isn’t–this is your true self telling you things about who you love and how. Your love is relational, so you want more time together. You love is protective, so you want suffering to end quickly.
Sometimes your feelings may swerve toward the throat-punch variety. You will feel sudden rage bubble up against the curt social worker. The friend who hasn’t called to check in. The BMW driver who just cut you off in traffic. The child who is asking to play video games on your phone when you’re obviously in the middle of something. Maybe this is your true self telling you that your love is passionate, so you may be volatile. Or maybe it’s that you’re just flawed, like everyone else, and prone to lash out at petty inconveniences and the people closest to you.
As much as you can, look straight at what is happening. You will want to look away–that might mean you prefer to rage against injustice (see above), or to distract yourself with logistics, or to drink too many glasses of wine to blur your vision–but try to hold your gaze steady. This is where you are meant to be: present to him, witness to his story, surrounding him with love.
Know that you are walking a road that many, many people have walked before. It’s a gift to share pain with them. The gift is that you now know something new: you know how others have suffered, and you can let it make you gentler toward the world. It doesn’t have to make you defensive; you can let it make you softer.
Remember the words you read today from Richard Rohr: “Your task is to find the good, the true, and the beautiful in everything, even and most especially the problematic.” A parent in hospice is problematic in a number of ways, but the good, the true and the beautiful are downright resplendent, nonetheless.