9.28.2016

The Question I Was Asked


In my prior post, I shared that there had been a question that I had been wrestling with for over a year that I finally got an answer to, and that is what led to being able to go to confession and truly resolve to sin no more.

I remember it clearly, sitting in Fr. D's office, newly pregnant, trying to figure out the mess that was my life and he asked me "What must Sugarbeet sacrifice?" as we were talking about my and R's living situation and Fr. D was asking if we could not live together. And in good spiritual direction, the questions are posed to the directee, Church Teaching is offered, but the decision is left to the directee...it is not, nor should it be, a 'you must do this' type of relationship. Free will is respected.

I left Fr. D's office so angry that day. Angry that he was suggesting that the best thing for Sugarbeet was for R and I to not live together, and angry that he was suggesting that Sugarbeet had to sacrifice anything. Already my mommabear claws were up in wanting to protect my child from any sort of harm or struggle in life. And also open to considering the question, because any other time I had left his office angry with him, the results had been so fruitful. I trusted that this too, would be fruitful, I just couldn't imagine how.

Every fiber of my being screamed to me that Sugarbeet growing up with his or her parents not living in the same household was NOT the answer. I had grown up that way, I would NOT pass on that kind of struggle to my child. Nope. Many suggested that it would be a virtuous and heroic thing to sacrifice this; that it would help R and I to discern our relationship, from their perspective, more fully; and many other reasons why we should not live under the same roof.

While my head could acknowledge there was some truth to each point, even it (my head) could not agree that it was the right thing to do. Our Church clearly teaches that children should be raised with both parents when at all possible; social sciences again and again show the importance of a mother and father in the home, raising children together; my own educational background in early childhood development and education was steeped in the importance of both parents being active daily in the raising of the children.

As time went on, my instincts were reinforced in the daily living of life, and parenting our unborn child. As R felt random moves and kicks, and we argued over baby names, and he made sure I ate well, etc. etc., it was clear that this time of pregnancy was equally important for him to bond with Sugarbeet as it was for me.

Yet, the question I didn't want to answer remained. "What must Sugarbeet sacrifice?"

And so, too, did my own weaknesses and sin.

After she was born, and my cycles returned at 3 months postpartum (I didn't know that if your baby sleeps well, despite exclusive breastfeeding, your cycles will likely return - stupid AF), I realized there was even more to it. That the words I'd said so many times of "this is never about one baby, but babies, a family of many" and all of the emotions of infertility came flooding back, and the worries if there would be more and would it be difficult.

It was then, that I started to realize my own resistance to living in continence (abstinence) was partly centered on a desire for more children. As I heard my biological clock still ticking, frightened that infertility is still a part of me (as every test ever underwent and both surgeries showed, it is my body that was infertile), and desiring so much for siblings for Sugarbeet.

But the devil is not stupid. In fact, he is very smart. And as failed cycle after failed cycle happened, he was screaming in my head "you're not conceiving because God is punishing you for your sin"; "you're not conceiving because you do not deserve more children because of your sin" and more. Each cycle, getting progressively worse and worse until one afternoon in late spring when I found myself pouring over Familiaris Consortio by Pope St. John Paul II, seeking in the words a way that R and I could still remain under the same roof and somehow also be able to receive absolution in Confession and return to the Eucharist, because I knew that I could not battle the attacks of the devil on my own, that I needed the fullness of sacramental grace to help me. And as much as I knew that, I also knew that separating Sugarbeat from her father was also not the answer.

And then I found the answer, or rather the answer found me. Words that I had read so many times before professionally; had applied to others relationships, but not been able to apply to my own, seemed to come off the page at me (emphasis mine).
Reconciliation in the Sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children's upbringing, a man and woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they "take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is by abstinence from the acts 'proper to married couples'" ~Familiaris Consortio, #84
And as I read those words, words I've read over and over again for many different reasons, the asnwer to Fr. D's question also became clear:

"What must Sugarbeat sacrifice?"

Siblings.

Biological siblings.

For now.

And as I let those words settle on my heart, the tears of the bittersweetness that is the et et, both/and, of life and of the Catholic faith, the tears I've come to recognize as so clearly God's word and hand in my life, became clarity on what had to come next.

And I scheduled my next appointment with Fr. D for later that week. And on May 13, Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, and my baptismal anniversary, I was able to return to the Sacrament of Confession. And on Sunday, May 15, Pentecost, the Sacrament of Eucharist.

The longing that I had felt, the constant calling me home, despite my sin, and the confidence that my journey in my own spiritual life to where instead of feeling punished by the cross placed upon me, to where I was able to embrace it and accept it made coming home, once again, the Father welcoming home His prodigal daughter, all helped to prepare me to be able to accept the mercy being offered to me. I was able to accept my new cross, of living in continence and not pursuing a sibling for Sugarbeat, with tears of gratitude for His mercy as I received Eucharist.

9.12.2016

Dad

Four years ago this Wednesday, I first asked this community to pray for my Dad.

I come to you again, to ask for prayers for the repose of his soul.

I have dreaded writing this post because as with so many things, there is something about putting them here in this place that makes it 'real'.

Dad died on Aug. 18, 2016. I was holding his hand and Sugarbeet was standing with me. It was one of the most peaceful, hope-filled, and saddest moments of my life.

It was peaceful and hope-filled because my Dad and I had made peace, and he and R had made peace. I had prepared myself almost 2 years ago that my Dad might never speak to me again, but I promised myself that I would not be the one to close to the door. That I would not let hurt and anger allow me to shut him out if he wanted back in. And when he wanted back in, I was able to meet him where he was and make peace. He met and knew Sugarbeet. She was so good for him. He would smile and say 'she's the best medicine' when we would visit, and he and I talked and chatted and were father and daughter, with all of our brokenness and messiness, but seeking that relationship that meant so much to both of us for so long. Those months of peace, weeks in the case of Dad and R, are a gift I will treasure.

Long ago, I shared the song "Blessings" by Laura Story, and it has always been one that has spoken to me. Losing my Dad was no different. So many tears were shed these last years over our broken relationship, feeling rejected and hurt and fighting so hard to not let myself become bitter and angry. When Dad would reach out, I had to fight my instinct to throw up walls and protect myself or to insist that he do things on my terms. Instead, the lessons of so many years of infertility and seeking God and learning what it means to trust God, let me be vulnerable and open. I was able to meet my Dad where he was and have a relationship with him, so that at the end, I was by his side and nothing was left unsaid. I was able to truly cherish the moments I had with him, realizing and knowing what a gift they were and not see them as just another day.


Yes, there is so much left undone - are we ever done with this life, truly? And in the days and years ahead, Dad will be missed. There is a Dad-sized hole that will never be filled. Sugarbeet will only know of her Pap in pictures and stories, but she will know him. When she rides in the front car of a roller coaster with her hands up, she will know him. When she learns the rules to a football game, and corrects biased fans around her when the referees made the right call that went against their team, she will know him. When she dances to the Beach Boys, she will know him. And when she roots for Duquesne, she will know him.

As for me? Five years ago, before we knew the cancer had come back, I decided that I was no longer buying my Dad 'stuff' for holidays, rather I was going to give us 'time together' and I started buying him tickets to sporting events and concerts. And we had time together. And those days spent, traveling together, enjoying one another, and having fun are seared precious memories that despite all the tears of these past few weeks, only bring joy to my heart. "Time together" given, not as a reaction to a cancer diagnosis, but because I loved my Dad and wanted to spend time with him. Truly a priceless gift. I miss him.

Beach Boys Concert

Duquesne Basketball Game
For those interested in the 'technical' details:

When I asked you to pray 4 years ago, Dad had been in for his 6-month PET Scan (he'd had a melanoma mole removed 4 years prior, with clear margins, and was on his last 6 month scan, if it had been clear, he'd have moved to annual scans) and they found melanoma in his lungs.

That fall, he had 2 lung surgeries, the first to do a biopsy/removal of a smaller spot on his right lung to determine that it was indeed melanoma and not lung cancer (melanoma is treated by removing it, lung cancer is treated with chemotherapy) and the second, upon confirmation of the melanoma to do a 1/3 lobectomy on the left lung.

He came through both surgeries very well and much to the surprise of his doctors, remained cancer free for a year. The next fall (2013), they found more melanoma in a couple of places, but remained optimistic. He was placed on a chemotherapy drug (pill) and once again, exceeded all expectations and responded to the treatment for 21 months (the longest prior was 8 months). He had minimal side effects, with the most severe being extreme sensitivity to sun - he wore long sleeves, a hat and sunscreen and never complained.

Last summer, he quit responding to the pill chemotherapy and was switched to an infusion type of drug. At Christmas, he was not doing well with side effects and was extremely weak, he was also not responding to the new drug. Early this year, he switched drugs again, back to a pill option. The side effects lessened, but the cancer kept growing. He went through a round of radiation on his pelvis that worked well.

Then, in May, he was having pain in his back and neck. A scan showed tumors on his spine in 3 places - near his neck, middle back, and lower back. He immediately started radiation, but the cancer was growing too fast and pushed on his middle back making him unable to walk. He had surgery to remove the tumors and fuse vertebrae. He had setbacks with complications and drug interactions, but by early July there was talk of getting him strong enough to go home in a wheelchair. We were all so hopeful.

But, his neck was still hurting and they had to investigate why. The MRI showed the cancer had broken bones in his neck and he would need a second surgery to fuse the vertebrae together, with possibly having to fuse it to his skull because of the small amount of bone present. Fortunately, fusing to his spine was not necessary.

Through all this, we all knew that the cancer wasn't being treated...he was not strong enough for chemotherapy or radiation because of the risk of side effects. But he kept fighting. In late July he lost his appetite. My little brother had a chat with him and he started trying to eat, but he just wasn't hungry. He was tired a lot of the time, and mostly happy in a nursing home rehab unit but still struggling with pain. He then started to struggle with swallowing and was admitted back to the hospital on Aug. 12. Finally, they were able to get his pain under control, and inserted a feeding tube for nutrition - he was comfortable for the first time in months.

I visited him on Aug. 13 and on the evening of Aug. 14 I said to R: "I'm not ready for my dad to die, but if my Dad said he didn't want anymore treatment, I would support him. I would also support him if he wanted to keep fighting." And in my heart I started to prepare myself for him to die soon.

On Aug. 16, there was a meeting with the doctors, they had run some tests the day before and were concerned with Dad worsening, seemingly quickly. The tests showed the cancer was spreading, rapidly. Faster than any treatment could keep up with it, if he were strong enough to withstand the treatment. And we heard the words from an oncologist no family ever wants to hear: "If it were my father, I would stop treatments and keep him comfortable."

And suddenly, we were in a conference room seeing pictures of his scans, seeing the lesions and his lungs full of malignant fluid, and making arrangements to take Dad home with hospice care. The doctors said he could live 10 - 14 days, but I suspected once he was home it would be much less than that. We went back to his hospital room and asked him if he wanted to go home, with hospice care - he was pretty out of it, but we were all confident he understood what we were asking when he nodded his head 'yes.' Later that afternoon he was more awake and was able to be asked again, and again, he said 'yes.'

And so, that evening, at about 6:00, my Dad went home. He was so happy to be there, he smiled and said so. It was so good to see him so happy. When I kissed him goodnight that night, I said "welcome home. I love you" and he said "it's good to be here. I love you too" and those were the last words I heard my Dad say. The next two days were spent visiting, allowing friends and family to visit, and say goodbye. On Wednesday, I laid my head on his shoulder, as I wanted to do, just one more time, and I said all the things I needed to say. I did not want to leave anything left unsaid. While he didn't talk back, I know he heard me, as his facial expression changed and he moved and responded. The hospice nurse told us that Dad was starting to show signs of imminent death and that he would probably die within 24 - 48 hours.

The next day, on August 18, 2016 at 3:37 pm, in the hour of mercy, my Dad died. I was sitting on the floor beside his bed, holding his hand, praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet and Sugarbeet, his only grandchild, was standing with me. Just moments before he died, she reached out and held his hand. She was so still and so quiet. She knew what was happening, and watching her respond just affirmed my feelings that babies and those who are close to death share a connection to God the rest of us can but dream of.

I was not ready for my Dad to die. I am so grateful I was able to be with him.

Sugarbeet holding my Dad's hand, just moments before he died.