The last two weeks have been a hazy blur, and not in the good way.
Dad suffered a series of markedly down-turning events that necessitated a very quick trip home. As a consistent target for TSA bitches I’m not a fan of flying to begin with – much less when the day has to begin at 3AM to catch a 6AM flight. The TSA’s were manageable on the outbound flights from Boston, no hammer complexes there.
After a few days of hospital roulette (never knowing who the next assigned doctor would be, ever getting an update on some test results, or wondering if the wastebaskets would EVER be emptied) we ended up moving him to a local rehabilitation center. For reasons known only to fans of the movie Birdcage, I have nicknamed the place Bob Fosse. I spent the next few days there with my sisters and brothers trying vainly to honor my Dad’s wishes about his health care proxy.
“Fosse” is a Catholic institution that currently has 3 local priests with a parent/patient currently in-house; consequently the place is crawling with RC priests. I’m ok with that, my little brother is one of them. Here is what I am not OK with: one of them (pretty much a stranger to me no less) took the opportunity to get all pastoral on my ass at a time when I was trying to pull myself together and say goodbye to my Dad for what well could have been the last time I will see him alive. I told him three times I was not going to have that conversation with him right now, and that I really had to concentrate on my father. I understood his deal, I knew he thought he was being helpful, put he pushed back with a lengthy fairy tale about how ” your Dad’s suffering is not in vain, his suffering will save other souls and that when he is in heaven there will be people lined up to thank him for his suffering because he saved their souls…..” and I threw a big, red bullshit flag.
Seriously? A line of people thanking Dad? It sounded like a coffee shop in a bad Disney movie. I am RC by faith and by grace but what heaven will or will not be is not definitively known to any of us. We can hope, conjecture and read Catherine of Siena until we are blue in the face but I believe our puny human minds cannot begin to comprehend what lies ahead. I think it is much bigger and better than anything we could ever come up with and I am content with that knowledge.
Father Get-All-Up-In-My-Grill was shocked when I threw that BS flag and tripled his horrifically patronizing efforts to educate me on the error of my thinking. It set off an avalanche of reprimand and judgment. ( I was also told to go to confession.) He started peppering me with questions, all of which I answered pretty calmly. Here is a sample:
Father Grill: Are you married?
Father Grill: Children?
Father Grill: (One eyebrow critically raised)
ME: I had ovarian cancer.
Father Grill: Oh. (Evidently that was pardonable) What is your married name?
Father Grill: Ciolina?
ME: No. Ciolino – with an O at the end.
Father Grill: Oh, is he Italian?
ME: No, Sicilian.
Father Grill: (Scared look) Ohhh, Sicilian. Did you learn to make the pasta? (SERIOUSLY, HE SAID THAT. I SWEAR I AM NOT MAKING THAT UP. )
ME: No. I don’t have to. My husband makes it when he wants it.
It went on longer than I ever should have permitted and he left the room wearing more skin on his body than I ever should ever have left on it. I was angry and shaken and grieving – and all at the same time. I refuse to dwell on it or give it any more time or thought than I already have. Instead, I will take that experience and offer the following suggestions for visiting the sick that all of us can use:
- Speak softly. Noise in the sickroom is anathema. Ditto for perfumes and well-intentioned aromatherapy.
- Be brief. The family and the patient are both exhausted.
- Be useful. Ask them if you can bring them water, coffee, dinner – anything. Walk the hall with them. Anybody need to be picked up at the airport? Anybody need a ride to the hospital?
- Be present. You don’t need to regale them with stories of your own family illnesses and/or deaths, it isn’t a throw-down. Just be present.
- Be honest. Spare them the “oh wait and see, he’ll be good as new in no time, ” especially when that is NOT going to happen.
- Be cognizant. It is about what they need, not what you want to give them.
I remember years ago when we lost mom and people started showing up at my folk’s house with all kinds of food. It was all home cooked and all wonderful. Since there were about 24 of us there at the time (children & grandkids, spouses, etc.) it made meal times much less difficult. Then, and I’ll never forget this, someone showed up with a huge box of stuff and just left it very quietly. It was filled with big packages of paper plates, cups, napkins, rolls of paper towels…. and toilet paper. It was the most incredible, thoughtful, useful thing ever. Who knew? Someone did, and I’m happy to pass it along. We should all be so useful. Seriously.