Mercy Me! I've got work to do.

Mercy Me — I've got work to do! making the world a better place – starting with me.

Hail Mary, full of grace

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Can you imagine an ambulance picking up your spouse to take him to the hospital, him joking with the paramedics one second and eyes rolling back the next?  Your pulse is racing; his stops.  The paddles shock life back into his body. You wonder who’s going to shock it back into you, now that your own heart has stopped.

It’s an unsettling scenario.   It has also been my mom’s life for almost the last four years since her husband was diagnosed with cancer in his head and neck.  Not that situation every time; in fact that was the first time they have had to use the paddles on him.  It’s just that was the most recent ordeal.

Since the diagnosis, there have been: surgeries, chemo, radiation, Staph infections, pneumonias, MRSA, ambulance rides, ER visits, hospital stays, falls, walkers, wheel chairs, specialists, internists, hospitalists, neurologists, cardiologists, speech therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, feeding tubes, catheters, pharmacists, drugs, side-effects, nurses, home health aides, sleepless nights, isolation, weakness, numbness, visiting priests, last rites and tears.

At the center of it all, is my mom, his sole caregiver.  Read the last paragraph again – none of it happens without her involvement.

Instead of being at a loss for words to describe what her life has been like, I feel flooded with them—to the point that trying to convey the mass and entirety of their meaning dilutes them altogether.

My mom married Bob the year I was pregnant with my first son, 12 years ago.  I was 29 years old and I wasn’t interested in having a step-dad.  That sounds so bitter, but I mean none.  It was just too weird at my age to think of having another parent.

So while I didn’t think of him that way at first, I certainly considered him a blessing.  He was fun and funny; good-natured and good-hearted.   He treated my mother with respect, devotion and love.  He was there when I gave birth, when my dog died, and when my kids were sick. He took me to look at houses when I wanted to move, tile when I wanted to renovate and furniture when I wanted to decorate.  He and my mom would let me tag along with them to estate sales and lunches out when my kids were small and I was lonely.

After he found out I wanted to be a writer, I received a package in the mail with some videos of writing courses.  The note said “Your stimulus package is here.  Hopefully, it will enable you to unleash those fine literary talents you have kept in abeyance.”  I know because I still have the note. I carefully cut the encouraging words from the package slip and hung them on my bulletin board where I kept his kindness before it could drift from the warm memory of my heart.

He signed it “Daddy Bob.”  That’s what I ended up calling him, thanks to my son who couldn’t say Granddaddy Bob.  He started calling him Daddy Bob; and the rest of my family followed suit.   Somehow he evolved to be my Daddy Bob whether I intended him to or not.

His illness has been hard on me too and again I feel flooded with words.  Yet, if I were forced to speak, I am afraid nothing would come out.

I have tried to care for him mostly by caring for my mom.  I have cooked for her, cleaned, picked up prescriptions, groceries, taken care of pets, sat with her in the ER, the hospital and at doctor’s appointments.  I have fielded middle of the night phone calls, and valiantly tried to help lift him when he needed help up the steps or off the floor after falling.  But whatever I have done to help, pales in comparison to what my mom has done.  As much as I have tried to be there for her, she is very much alone in her plight.  Knowing that just makes me sadder.

When I think of dying, I don’t think of it in terms of years, but that’s what it has been – years of slow decay.  It seems like he has been through everything – everything but death.  I have wondered why God has kept him alive when his quality of life is so bad.  I have wondered if caring for him will kill my mom.  I have wondered if my boys remember how good he was to them before he got sick.  I have wondered just about everything it seems.

But after years of going through it all, it somehow seems more distant than familiar.  He stays in his bedroom and for the most part doesn’t want visitors.  At first this hurt my feelings, but then it became kind of a relief.  It was so much easier to serve on the other side of the door.

So that’s where I have been mostly, until today when I visited him in the hospital.   He is so physically different, worn and almost wasted.  I have to catch my breath.  It’s awkward seeing him so weak.  It’s like trying to ignore the very strong elephant in the room.  I just want things to be easy and light, the way they used to be.

But easy and light is over for Daddy Bob.

He started crying when he saw me.  He thanked me for coming and said he was happy to see me.  He got so excited when I talked to him about the boys.  I tried to stay composed.  I have been here too many times.  Too many goodbyes have been said.  I look away and think momentarily about how people talk about telling loved ones what they mean to them while they still have the chance.  I have done it before.  I can’t do it today.

Before I leave I kiss him goodbye and tell him I love him.  On the way home, the tears spill.

I go to a large statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Fatima in my dining room.  It is known as the traveling statue of our Lady.  Pope John Paul II wanted a statue of Our Lady of Fatima to be in every parish because of his devotion to Mary and the rosary.   The statue travels from home to home so that families can gather and pray the rosary.  It happened to be my week to have the statue.002

Standing in front of her, I think about Daddy Bob, my mom and our call to comfort the sick.   I think of the example my mother has set with her devotion and selflessness over the past few years.  I think of Mary’s own suffering watching her son die on the cross.  She never walked away, as hard as it must been for her to watch the torment of her child.  She stayed.

Love compels you to serve and comfort, even when it means your own discomfort.  It gives you the strength to step up, to keep going, to endure for however long is necessary.  That’s what Mary did for Jesus and what my mom does for her husband.

In honor of them both, I take the rosary from our Blessed Mother’s hands into my own and begin to pray for Daddy’s Bob’s comfort — “now until the hour of his death.”

Amen.

After several days in the hospital, Daddy Bob is back at home again being lovingly cared for by my mother.  On Saturday, I brought him the traveling Madonna thinking it would comfort him.  He was so happy to have the statue.  He kept asking me how long she would be able to stay. Unfortunately, I was supposed to get her to the next person the following day.    

I decided to ask that person if they would be willing to sacrifice one of their days, so that Daddy Bob could enjoy a longer visit with the statue of Our Lady of Fatima.  I would like to acknowledge the generosity and kindness of Maggie Stormant, who insisted that Daddy Bob take the statue for her entire week.  It is these simple gestures and thoughtful sacrifices that we can do for one another that sometimes bring the biggest comforts. Without hesitation and without having ever met him or my mother, she sacrificed her week.  Thank you, Maggie.

I also want to thank my mom, for courageously allowing me to share such an intimate part of her life and for setting such a remarkable example of what it means to comfort the sick.  Most of all, she has shown me that “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:7

Love never fails.

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Author: Lara Patangan

Mercy me, I’ve got work to do… is a blog I started on my 40th birthday to chronicle my experiences spending the year doing corporal and spiritual works of mercy. No longer on the cusp of a new decade, I am still here finding that much work remains – in the world, my community, my relationship with God and perhaps most challenging, within myself. Please sign up and join me as we share the work that matters most – being better people. In hopes that when the decades cease to pass the world will still whisper of the graces left in our wake.

17 thoughts on “Hail Mary, full of grace

  1. You and your mom knows what loving someone is all about.

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  2. My tears are spilling… we don’t often get a glimpse into the lives of someone caring for a sick loved one. What a reminder and beautiful tribute to your Mom – and all those who love so deeply. All of you are in my prayers…

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    • Thank you J-

      Prayers are always appreciated. It’s been difficult but I do think I have been given an incredible gift to see my mom demonstrate such an active and sacrificial example of love. I hope I am never called to serve that way. However, if I am I will know because of her example, that love will give me the strength I need to endure.

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  3. aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!! I had to stop at paragraph 3 because my contacts were floating off my eyes and I can hardly type because I am sobbing.  I am so touched by your mom’s love for daddy bob and your love and admiration for your mom and your GREAT way of expressing it. 

    ________________________________

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    • Cecily,

      I am going to go to Costco and buy you some tissues because I feel bad about all this crying. I continue to be touched and awed by how tremendous and open your heart is to other people’s suffering. I admit I cried so much when I wrote it, that the next day my son told me “You look different. Your eyes are all puffy and you look older.” Now, that makes me want to cry!

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  4. Tearing up, I was reminded of my Mom’s experience with her husband, Bob (who Thomas called Bop). Thank you for putting it into words and sharing your familiar story. Your DaddyBob sounds like a wonderful person!

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    • Thanks Robin. Daddy Bob is an awesome person. He used to remind me of Regis Philbin on Regis and Kelly. He was just funny, well-mannered and entertaining. That’s why it’s painfully uncomfortable seeing him in such a humble and vulnerable state. It also explains why I was such a wreck at your step dad’s funeral. It sounds like our mom’s have had kindred loves and lives. BTW, I love that Thomas called him Bop! What a precious memory.

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  5. I just liked your post to realize that I am in tears and…O love it: your courage, love and patience through it all…God bless you, Daddy Bob and your Mom!

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    • Misses C —
      Thank you for your generous words and encouragement. When I brought the traveling Mary to see him we had such a nice visit. No tears. I had my 11 year old with me and we all sat and talked about school, fishing, baseball — nothing really, but it was a nice visit. I am still feeling grateful for it.

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  6. Lara,
    When I need a good cry, I know where to go!!
    I find myself talking about and sharing your blog more and more these days. Thank you for being such a true inspiration and for truly touching so many people. You and your mom are blessed to have one another and share such a great man in your family’s life. Thank you and your mom for sharing this personal story! Daddy Bob will be in our nightly prayers.

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    • Susan,

      Thank you so much. It really means so much to me that you would keep him in your prayers. As always, I appreciate your generosity and encouragement. Sometimes its hard sharing such personal hardships so its nice to know that other people can take something away from them.

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  7. Your writing brought tears to my eyes. I will keep you all in my prayers.

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  8. Lara,

    sorry to tell you but yes, I cried too. more tears! This post has reopened a wound of my life that has not healed. unfortunately it’s because I have walked in your shoes- taking calls of terror from my mom all hours of the day, rushing to their house to help pick my dad up, bringing meals, sitting at hospitals, being my mom’s “go to girl” when she needed to be lifted up, someone to cry with or vent her worries to, etc. I was her sounding board which was so hard because I too was losing my father to cancer. I watched my dad slowly die. Cancer took his body, mind, and spirit less than 2 years from his diagnosis. He died at home surround by family and friends. As hard as that was on our family, it was an act of love especially from my mom who quit her job to care for him full time for 6 months before his death. It was a powerful example of what it means to commit to love someone til death do us part. I am grateful for brave and gracious way my father handled death and the way my mother kept her commitment to him.
    It was been a reminder to me of what a gift my parents are and have been and how I can pass these lessons on to my kids. I will keep all of you in my prayers.

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    • Debbie,

      I am so sorry about your dad — for you, for your mom, your siblings and your children. I know that kind of loss runs deep. It was always obvious to me how much your parents loved one another. I ache thinking about her loss. While I wish they had more time together, I am glad that they spent it wisely — loving each other and their family. It is a lesson for all of us. Reading your comment you mirror so much of what I have felt the past few years so I truly appreciate you sharing it. I agree too that our mamas have set a powerful example of what love really is and what love really takes. My only lament about reading your comment is it makes me miss you! I will send healing prayers your way for you and your mom.

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