It’s been 3 months and 8 days since my dad passed away. 3 months and 2 days since his funeral.
On and off the blog, I’ve remained mostly silent about my grief. It feels as if there’s no chance to process it because the world keeps turning. I still need to run errands, make a list for the store, invest in my marriage and boys. Write columns. Write blogs. My mind is a windstorm of memories, but I don’t really talk about it because I wonder if people are tired of hearing it. Or would it make them feel awkward because they can’t relate? Not that I’d blame them – he wasn’t their dad and few of my peers have experienced losing a parent.
To be honest, I push his death aside because I don’t want to deal with it. I’m roughly 735 miles away from the home where he was diagnosed and cared for, where he gradually struggled to walk around. My immediate view is void of memories with him because his health prevented him from visiting us after we bought our house – a painful truth to bear since, more than anything, I wanted both him and my mom to take pride in our progress. They’re home improvement people and he was such a Mr. Fix-It/Build-It that I wanted his insight and to see him impressed with different projects we’ve completed. I tend to busy myself when sorrow resurfaces – like now for instance, I’ve stopped writing at least a dozen times to check Facebook or send a quick email. I’m sure my Online ADD is contributing, but I’d just rather not feel sad.
I flew up to Omaha to visit him one last time before he died; I saw him several times over the course of my stay, but it was our last conversation that left a mark. It was the most honest and open dialogue we ever had. I prayed a Chaplet of Divine Mercy outside his room, terrified of saying goodbye; but once I was with him, there was no denying his circumstances or the certainty of what lay ahead, so we talked about it. We joked here and there. We sobbed and consoled each other as best as we could. I stayed at his bedside until he fell asleep. Walking away, I turned to behold my hero one last time and managed a tearful “thank you” before finally leaving.
As my dad’s death drew closer, I could feel my faith withering alongside his life. When he passed, the tiny questions about God I had nagging my soul raged into a full-blown crisis of faith. I became resentful toward God and shocked at the reality that my father died.
My father DIED.
No more conversations. No more hearing him call me Kate or hearing his full, resounding laugh. In my anger, I’d mutter “It’s total garbage,” frustrated that any of this had happened at all. My faith fluctuated to extremes – some days I’d be smiling, just beaming with happiness that my dad, regardless if he’s in Purgatory or Heaven, has a remarkably high understanding of God and His plan now. Add to this the hope of being with his parents and two miscarried siblings. Such hope! I was joyful knowing we could possibly have a better relationship now than when he was alive. Different of course – much different – but better. He can love me more completely and I can care for his soul quite directly by praying for him, if he is in Purgatory. This joy was abundant in the initial weeks after his death. But the dust started to settle and my rosy perspective grayed.
One day I cried confessing to Andrew that I didn’t think I believed in God anymore. Doubts and skepticism didn’t just lurk, they had overcome me, despite obvious evidence of God’s mercy and love. In hindsight, it was clearly the devil messing with me. Like my father’s passing, I shoved God’s graces aside, effectually saying “No thank you. I’ve had enough of Your plan.”
High or low, I kept going to Mass. I kept praying with my boys. I prayed before meals. Andrew and I maintained our nightly prayer together. I kept it up out of habit, but also because, despite the overwhelming doubts, I wanted to trust the convictions that my past-self had maintained. I’ve been a happy Catholic my whole life, and I tried so hard to have confidence in that fact. I felt numb praying, as if I weren’t really participating or like it was some silly act. My darkness and confusion left me no choice but to obey my faith, though it had hardened and grown bitterly cold.
How in the WORLD did I get to this point? I confess that I didn’t know the answer until yesterday, I think. Looking back (not that it’s terribly long ago), my personal prayer life was non-existent. Sure praying with others helped, but my heart wasn’t in it. I’m seldom consistent with devotions and prayer on my own, and because of my anger, I distanced myself further by not praying at all. It stands to reason – and I’m walking evidence – that if you don’t allow yourself to encounter God – Who is Love – then it will be difficult to identify traces of Him anywhere. Like a break-up, if you don’t talk to the person, if you throw out all the pictures of them, and avoid any and all evidence of their existence, then before long they’ll be a vague memory. Someone you used to know.
And that’s what I had done – I broke up with God because not only did His plan not line up with mine, but His plan involved my siblings and me losing our beloved father, my mom losing the love of her life. There wasn’t anything on this green earth that my dad couldn’t conquer if he worked at it, and he worked at beating cancer. He followed his doctor’s advice to the letter, continued working full time for a while, and kept up visits to the gym. Superman. I was certain that cancer was just an obstacle that he’d overcome sooner or later – he made it look like child’s play.
If you look at a calendar, you’ll realize this is all painfully recent. 3 months is not a long time. As I’m learning to accept that my dad got cancer and died from it, my faith flickers with the slightest sign of life. I feel freer to understand that there are things much bigger than me, and that it’s foolishness to refuse to recognize God’s mercy on my family, especially my dad. In hospice, he had countless visits from priests, he received Communion often as well as Anointing of the Sick. His own prayer life increased and his death was peaceful, surrounded by and immersed in prayer.
I’m very much in recovery, and I’m hopeful that healing will take place as time passes and as I ask for the humility to accept it. In all challenges, I have to obey. Obey the inner prompting to pray (also known as the Holy Spirit), obey Andrew’s suggestions that I go to Confession on a Saturday afternoon, continue praying alone even if it feels like I’m just speaking words to a void. I obey because my mind knows the truth of Christ and the Catholic Church that my heart feels too weak to grasp. I keep moving and pray for the fog to lift.
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (Psalm 139:7-12)