Last night we were told that my dad has only days or weeks to live. He is in a nursing home in West Covina, 20 miles east of Los Angeles. For the last week, I have been trying to move him to Virgina so he will not be alone but my inquiries only brought bad news. He has been refusing medical care so the doctor has not been to see him in three and a half weeks, so my question, “Can he safely be moved to Virginia?” resulted in a blood test that show nearly every component in his body is badly out of whack. His creatine levels which should be in the teens are 180. His blood has become toxic.
It is hard to lose both parents in a month. This weekend for the first time since my mother died on August 26, I began to feel almost okay, the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach had eased and I could think of my mom without a visceral reaction. But now that “kicked in the stomach” feeling has come back with the yawning fatigue that seems to swallow me.
I was always so proud of my fit, healthy parents. Trim, athletic. In the last decade our family vacations revolved around horseback riding or hiking and I wonder, when did they start to decline? With them on the west coast and me on the east, it seems I missed some crucial turning point. I wonder, was it the accident?
Less than two years ago my mother plowed into a stopped car in the middle of the freeway. I scroll through my journal and find this entry from November 25: In two days it will be two weeks since my parent’s car accident. They were on the last leg of a thousand mile journey up to northern California to see my Aunt Barbara and Uncle Chuck, then home to L.A. Just seven miles from home my mom noticed something funny: the tail lights of the car ahead of her were an odd color, no, the car was stopped.
Later she realized that the tail lights were not on and that the faint pink was the color of her headlights reflecting off the dark red surface of the taillights in front of her. She hit the brakes, and slide beautifully into the back of the stopped car, which then clobbered the car ahead of her. The airbags hit Mom in the face, arms and chest.
She is tiny. At her tallest she measured five feet, two inches, and now she can’t measure five feet. She was bruised by the air bags. Dad, in the backseat, was hurt more badly. Herein lies the rub.
We have no idea how badly he was hurt, or even what is wrong.
My father is a Christian Scientist and he not only refused medical help–or even evaluation–at the scene of the accident, he has bravely? stubbornly? continued to refuse medical help. In his world seeing a doctor is cheating. It invalidates your prayers, pulls back the healing that was on its way. My mom was too shocked, too bruised to disoriented to call at first, but three days after the accident, she called to say that she was sore, but that Dad was in bed most of the day, eating little and in great pain. I was 3000 miles away and found it almost impossible to picture my dad in bed. Although he had not seen a doctor in over 40 years, he seemed to be the picture of health, especially for someone who turned 80 in March. He plays, or should I say played? tennis every morning, returning the ball with such vigor that I only see a florescent green blur zip by my field of vision before I can move my racket to the right side of my body. He has not been out since the accident. We children, long past middle age ourselves, wonder, What is wrong? Ruptured spleen? If so, he has survived it. Broken bones? He told my sister on the phone that his arm, “Does not work.” Broken collarbone? That would make sense.
He says that right before the collision, he moved forward in the seat–probably an attempt to grab the wheel, a reflex from years of teaching people how to drive–and so was thrown around quite a bit because his seat belt was extended. When I first learned of the accident, I called several times a day, wanting to talk to him, but he was always asleep and when I asked my mom to rouse him, he waved her impatiently off and wanted to know why I was “bugging” him. Sigh.
Ever since the rest of the family decided to follow Jesus, and my dad trundled off to the Christian Science Church, it has always felt a bit like a competition. His faith versus ours. At first he said he became a Christian Scientist because it was “demonstrable” – meaning that he could see it work because he got better when he thought the “right” thoughts. When I became a rabid Charismatic and began to see people healed dramatically, he got very quiet. I do not want to compete, but the thought of my dad in such pain, makes it hard to carry on as usual.
I wonder how he pictures God and suspects that his god must be harsh to stand at a distance and make people suffer until they can get it “right.” Several days after the accident, he called with help from my mom. His voice did not sound familiar, it has that strained lower pitch of one in great pain. He said, simply, “I am suffering.” I was too stunned at this admission to respond. His religion has always struck me as codified denial: You never admit what you really feel, in the hopes that what you want to feel will gradually replace your true feelings. I am all about emotional honesty, owning your feeling. I believe that my feelings reveal what I believe, if not with my whole heart, at some level, so I listen to mine and try to process any beliefs that do not ring true. I may not like what I feel; my feelings often reveal the least favorite part of my heart, that part that I wish eviscerate and cast aside, but I believe the way out is through, like diving into a wave instead turning your back and vainly hoping that it will not clobber you.
On Thanksgiving he got in the car determined to drive to his church. My mom ran for the phone and called, breathless. She was terrified he would hurt himself or someone else. “He can’t turn his head much, in either direction,” she worried. “And neither arm works very well.” We prayed on the phone and within five minutes he was back, impatiently wanting my mom to help him get undressed and back in bed.
“That was a quick answer to prayer,” my mom reported, almost giddy with relief, when she called me back. “He said it was ‘a dumb idea.’ Dumb indeed!”
Now we wait.
This is not a movie where some loved one will warn me, “This has a happy, or sad, ending.” Today is day 12 with no end in sight. He has always been thin, he eats little now. I do not know what to wish for, how to pray. Pray that he be healed and have him boast that he healed himself? I cry out to God for divine revelation.
If God could knock Saul off his horse and blind him with brilliant light, why not my dad? “Please God, I pray, Show him yourself.” Maybe he already has. Perhaps this is where my faith and my dad’s free will intersect. Not knowing what to wish for made me anxious. I pressed in close to God, got quiet so I could hear him. I began to sense that he is up to something wonderful, something that I cannot imagine, no matter how hard I try. My siblings and I have prayed for my dad for 43 years. Recently my sisters and I began to fast and pray. Could this be the answer to our prayers? I do not believe God would arrange a car accident so as to reach my dad. God is good. All the time. I do not believe he wants my dad to suffer. But I do think God is a master at turning everything into a greater good. The master redeemer. Satan seemed to win when Jesus was nailed to the cross, but God had an ace in his back pocket and Jesus rose again. No, I do not think that God arranged a car on the road so my mom would run into it but I do think he may turn this to his advantage. The enemy is not so creative. He comes to kill, steal and destroy. He is bad. All the time. His plans are more obvious. I am praying, in a place of quiet waiting to see how God will turn this around. Come quickly Lord. In Jesus name, Amen