It was a tough morning. My dad was disoriented.
It’s been one good day followed by two or three bad, and then a new level of normal is established. His deteriorating brain condition is a descent into a valley of unexpected challenges and simultaneous sacredness.
We were at church on Sunday morning—the big campus of Mariners—mega Christmas awesomeness on display.
I handed him two donuts. He looked at me baffled.
“What do I do with them?” he asked.
“You eat them.” I replied sadly.
“But there are two.”
I nodded and braved a tepid smile. “Let me hold one for you, daddy.”
With one doughnut in hand my dad seemed to understand the idea of eating. He opened his mouth wide and took a big bite.
Just then, some friends walked up. “Hi Sam. We’ve been praying for you. How are you holding up?”
I put on my fake pastor’s wife smile, choked back the tears, and said, “I’m hanging in there.”
And then my dad, who alternates between incoherency and moments of crystal clear clarity, minus a filter, and with the adorable impulsiveness of a toddler shouts out, “Why don’t you tell them how you’re really doing Sammy?”
He winked at me at laughed maniacally. I stood there floored.
And then I laughed until I cried.
Ok, dad, how exactly do I let it rip? How do I say, in the midst of church small talk and a gazillion people, that my world is tipping and swaying uncontrollably? Sometimes I feel like poop and sometimes I feel so blessed.
That my days are spent balancing a big family, work, the chaos of Christmas and two terminal illnesses. One day I’m decorating a Christmas tree and hanging Barbie ornaments and the next watching my step-dad weep with abandon as he faces a life without his beloved? I swim in the pool with my toddler and growl like wolverine and then walk upstairs and cradle my mom’s hands, the hands that raised me and calmed me, as she wince’s in pain as the cancer ravages and steals. Do I mention the night terror’s that woke me up last night as my dad screamed and cried and slapped my step-mom believing intruders were in the house? Do I say how hard it is to watch my daddy drift into a veiled world of paranoia, black spells and confusion?
I chewed on my thoughts as we entered the sanctuary. And then in the mysterious way that only God speaks, we listened to a sermon about Jesus who stepped into the messiness of life. My step-mom squeezed my hand and we sat back and breathed in the message.
It felt like God knew EXACTLY what I needed to hear. That he is with me in this mess. That he understands why donuts will now forever make me cry and he doesn’t mind that sometimes I babble on and on—half in shock and half in wonder—at the beauty and darkness of my life all jumbled together.
And I knew God was reassuring me as I watched my dad lift up his arms with abandon and worship, punching his fists in the air like a little kid, just waiting for his heavenly dad to pick him up and carry him home.
So, to answer my friend’s question of “how are you holding up?”
I would say, in all honesty…I’m a hot mess. A teary-eyed, wistful mess—anticipating unexpected lessons in the Valley of the Shadow of Death and both excited (and terrified) to see what the next day holds.