Saturday, September 5, 2009

father and son...

So many, many times over the past 30 years, this wonderful song by Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam has grabbed me where I live and spoken to me: sometimes I was the child, sometimes I was the father and sometimes I was watching them both and embracing the importance of both of their songs.

After this week with my own father not only am I going to relearn this tune - and play it regularly - but I am going to give thanks for the time we have shared even when it has been painful, absurd or bizarre. As some of you know, I was planning on visiting my dad this week as summer in the US came to a close. I hadn't been to his house in four years - since my mother's death - and it was a visit long overdue.

What happened, however, was like nothing I had expected for he fell over during the weekend, dislocated his shoulder and wound up being hospitalized for over a week because he had an allergic reaction to the pain meds he received in the emergency room. By the time I got down to Maryland - a 7+ hour trip by car - he was out of danger but experiencing totally weird symptoms: hallucinations, stroke-like seizures in his body and extreme anxiety. This went on for four days.

And then, after we were finally able to get his personal physician into the position of primary doctor in the hospital - and a host of tests were done to determine whether or not my father had experienced a brain injury in his most recent fall - it was discerned that he was experience DTs. Yes, delirium tremens which is described as "a severe form of alcohol withdrawal that involves sudden and severe mental or neurological changes." One dictionary offers this definition: DTs are especially common in those who drink the equivalent of 4-5 pints or wine or 7 - 8 pints of beer (or 1 pint of "hard" alcohol) every day for several months. Delirium tremens also commonly affects those who have had a history of habitual alcohol use or alcoholism for more than 10 years.

We were crazy afraid that dad had experienced a severe head injury. I was worried sick that this new, weird state was going to become our new reality. Instead, we found out that he was hallucinating and withdrawing from severe alcohol intake - and when the doctors gave him a "dt cocktail" to mimic the depressive qualities of his alcohol intake -ALL THE SYMPTOMS AND CRAZINESS ENDED!

Perhaps it is too vulnerable to say this but after the terror and craziness of my father's condition was diagnosed as DTs, I was simultaneously relived, grateful, angry and sad. As an adult, I understand that for most of his life my father has fought his anxiety with self-medication; I have been acutely aware that he is an alcoholic who refuses to own his disease; and through lots of therapy and prayer I have come to accept this as a reality I can't change. As my sister and I mused last night, no wonder there is a often a profound connection between authentic humility and humiliation, yes? This is a very humbling time...

Reading about the Rule of Benedict I kept going over this paragraph as this week unfolded: "Agitation drives out consciousness of God... we become immersed in our own agenda and it is always exaggerated... we lose touch with the center of things." (Joan Chittister) So as I tried to come to terms with my father's own broken humanity mostly I was sad for what has become the very small and frightened reality of his life. I am also angry that his addictions still cause the wider family such turmoil and I can't make things better. And I want to find a new way to continue to love him for who he is rather than who I want him to be.

Chittister speaks of this challenge like this: God is in the here and now. It is we who are not. It is we who are trapped in the past, angry at what formed us or fixated on a future that is free from pain or totally under our control. But God is in our present, waiting for us here. Little did I know that I would be awakened to these truths so boldly when I started this journey.

So... as odd as this sounds, I am (mostly) grateful for this trying, frightening, ugly and bizarre week with my father. He has given me the chance to simply be real and compassionate without getting caught up in the bullshit that is beyond my ability to change. Maybe I can practice just "being" with him - and others - and even myself. Just be... and be real.

Now that he is being treated, he will eventually head to physical rehabilitation for his shoulder and weakened legs and eventually will return to his home. I have lots of desires for what might happen after all of this... but know that precious little will change. Except, of course, that he is weaker and more frail... and will fall again... and will need more and more care. "Living life well," Chittiser writes, "is a call to repentance." Very, very true for me...

It was so good to come home to my sweet wife and her gentle embrace. As I was waiting for her to get home from work tonight, I watched a documentary on the making of Circ du Soliel's story of the Beatles: LOVE. I was so touched by the reworking of Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," which is my all time favorite song - the essence of my spirituality - but also the deep compassion it evokes. Tonight I sing it for my dad - and myself - and all of us who sit here with all this love sleeping withn and among us. (Listen to the strings dear George Martin wrote for Harrison's acoustic version and added 40 years later! It is a source of hope and prayer for me.)

photo credits: dianne de mott


Anonymous said...

I've always liked George's song too.


RJ said...

thanks, my friend... glad to see your writings, too. love potok!

Black Pete said...

We had a poet in Canada named Gwendolyn MacEwen, who was brilliant, and tortured. She died at 46 of sudden alcohol withdrawal (self-directed).

I'm glad your dad is still with us, and that you two have a chance to talk.

Black Pete said...

Ditto on Potok, while we're at it.

RJ said...

thanks Peter: it was a good time to be with him... and will call me to make time for more.

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