My father looked up at me from his hospital bed, eyes glazed and feverish. “Is this my deathbed?” he asked. Even though my thoughts echoed his, it pained me to hear him say it out loud. It was New Year’s Eve, and the double whammy of congestive heart failure and pneumonia had brought him to this point. Yet nearly two months down the road, a recurrence of pneumonia and at least two strokes later, he is surprisingly still with us, his tenacious grasp on life holding him back from the brink.
The days and weeks in between have been filled with long drives to visit him and hours and hours on the phone with siblings, medical staff, administrators, service providers, and on and on. Ten days ago, we were finally able to transport my father from his small town in northeast Washington to a convalescent center 15 miles from my house. Now the phone calls have been replaced by daily visits to sit at his bedside and consult with his nurses.
None of this has left much time for a spiritual life. Ash Wednesday came and went without me noticing, much less formulating an idea about Lenten discipline. When I expressed my regret about this to my spiritual director last week, she said, “Sue, caring for your dad IS your Lenten practice!” The moment the words left her mouth, I knew she was right. Even in the midst of the mind-numbing exhaustion, I had been aware of the sacredness of this journey with my father. Simple tasks like massaging his feet, feeding him or fluffing his pillows seemed imbued with a sense of the holy.
Suddenly, giving up chocolate or spending less time on Facebook felt so inconsequential when compared with walking a road that runs parallel to the Via Dolorosa. Certainly my prayers had become Gethsemane prayers. “God, I’m dreading the loss of my father, yet not my will but yours be done.” And thanks to the death and resurrection of our Lord, I did know that my father’s death would not be the final word. Indeed, death would be the doorway through which Dad would enter a place of ultimate healing and peace. Gone would be the desperate yearning for belonging, the deep need to be special and admired. I also knew my mother would meet him at the threshold and escort him into Divine Union with the One whose Perfect Love fulfills every longing.
And so, as I watch the light fade from my father’s eyes and hear his breath weaken within him, I remain present to him and to Christ who strengthens me, even as we all draw ever nearer to Jerusalem. I know that I am blessed to carry this cross, and I pray that your Lenten season will be blessed as well. And so, if you’ll excuse me, I must be on my way to sing to my father.