I am back in Alabama with my two cats, my two dogs and a summer thunderstorm enlivening things outside my window. These are intense days.
Along with traveling to Tallahassee to be with Maria through her surgery, on Thursday and yesterday, I got several glimpses of a ministry that continues to spin into something very new and very different in Southeast Florida. That happens. A new priest gets to come into a parish and help a community discern the shape and direction of the work they will do together, unencumbered by the agenda of the previous priest. It is also way too early to know what that might look like and what shape that will take in the part of the ministries in Fort Lauderdale I was most directly involved in these past years. It’s just that the end of one chapter and the beginning of another brings pain that is carried not just by the priest who left, but by others as well. Until Sherod is completely out, retired from All Saints and gone from Ft Lauderdale, no matter how carefully I try to keep my boundaries up, no matter how much distance I’ve put between myself and that particular corner of life, I still catch enough glimpses to have to acknowledge that grief will continue to come knocking for a while longer.
I am also aware that this visit with Maria amplified the sense not of powerlessness, but of limits I wish I didn’t have to accept. Yesterday afternoon, I had a pretty tough go-round with the nursing staff at her residential program. When she was released from the hospital around noon, I was given a prescription for a narcotic painkiller and told explicitly that she could and should take it every 4-6 hours to stay ahead of the pain. Now, this has been the year of living medically and I know some things about pain management and the ins and outs of getting narcotic prescriptions filled. It’s complicated.
I also knew, as soon as I got that script, that I needed to bring pressure to bear on the system so the script would be filled promptly. Sure enough—at 2:45, it was still sitting around in the nursing station. The pharmacy that TDC uses for meds for its residents is in Panama City and getting it filled was going nowhere fast. I knew that by 3:30, Maria would more than likely be in considerable pain. So I jumped into the fray, asked for the prescription and went to the nearest Walgreens to get it filled. When I got back, the nurses were in no hurry to make sure she took a pill, though you could see her pain and discomfort clearly. And in a condescending voice informed me that this was medicine to be used sparingly to avoid constipation.
You gotta be kidding me???!!!! This mama about went down the nurses’ throats at that point. We worked it through and I was as diplomatic as possible since I understand only too well that in an institution, after a skirmish like this, the vulnerable are the ones who pay. I also understand that this precious child of mine is one of dozens the staff at TDC is responsible for, and the calculus of care, compassion and practicality is different of necessity. This morning Maria was well enough so I was able to drive her to our favorite breakfast spot, Bada Breakfast, so she could eat a whole bowl of oatmeal and bananas. But when we got back to TDC, she desperately wanted to climb back into the recliner she’s discovered. I tucked her new throw blanket around her, gave her one last blessing and kiss and forced myself out the door. It was brutal, driving away. It was brutal to say out loud that as good and privileged as my life is, it is also diminished in some very painful ways by the distance that now separates me from Maria, that I miss the “cotidianidad”—the daily-ness of having her in the same city—quite desperately.
So loss intertwined with loss—how do we ever get through it in these middle years? The four hour drive back home gave me time to reflect on that question. Right now, the answer is pretty straightforward. Yesterday made it manifest and clear to me. Maria’s doctor and his surgical nurse invited me into a small sitting room after the surgery to tell me how it had gone. They asked a bit about Maria and I was able to tell them, in broad brushstrokes, the story of our brave and wonderful girl. Literally, both of them teared up. Not only had they brought good news that the growth was not malignant–they gave me some of their precious time and in doing that allowed Maria and me to be something more than a medical record.
In the afternoon, when I went to Walgreens to get the pain medicine, the pharmacist asked for insurance information. I explained very briefly what the situation was and said I would pay for the medicine myself. She said it would take about 15 minutes to fill the script but she actually only took 5 minutes. And told me that given the circumstances, the best she could do was give me a 50% discount. I hadn’t expected any discount at all, and again, it was the sheer kindness of a stranger that meant so much.
Later in the afternoon, two of Maria’s housemates, gentle, quite profoundly disabled, came into the small room where Maria and I were hanging out. Sarah and Shawn had made my girl get well cards. They were bashful, obviously delighted with themselves and so sweet as they gave her their gifts, reached down and carefully tried to hug or pat her and then left quietly.
I suspect it will take years and years for me to look back on my time with NRRM without the sense of loss and sorrow that still sometimes overwhelms me. I don’t think I will and don’t even aspire to ever ‘get over’ the losses that have come from loving my daughter. What get’s me through, what really works is quite simply this: practicing gratitude. For now, I try to practice gratitude daily for what is directly in front of me, for the breath-taking mercies of the moment. I believe if I can allow that gratitude to become the prism through which I look back at everything that has happened, I will be even more free than I am. The source of my gratitude today came from two places. First, my friend James posted a fabulous cover of Thunderstruck on Facebook last night–I played it LOUD in my car riding home. Then, just past Ozark, and before Brundidge, on Highway 231, I saw the most magnificent sign I hadn’t notice before. It was for a barbecue joint. Called Hawg’n’dawgs. How can you not love living in Alabama and being grateful…