The Hardest Thing

On Easter Sunday, my husband and I took our children to Mass, as we do every Sunday.  I wasn’t born Catholic, and I haven’t always been a regular churchgoer even after I became one.  But we love our church here, mostly thanks to the wonderful priests who run the place.   I originally became a Catholic because I felt that there was something I got during a Mass that I never was able to find anywhere else.  Our current parish carries that sentiment to the nth degree for me.  There’s always a peace, a message, a hope that comes over me during the service.  I’m able to put the petty worries of my life aside and just breathe.

During this week’s service, our priest talked about how so much of our time is spent running.  At first I thought he was going to rail on about the evils of this high impact exercise that I’ve come to love, so my dander was up (plus we went to the 7:30 service to avoid the crowds, so I was uncaffeinated as well).  But then as he continued, he made it clear that he was talking in much more of a figurative sense.  We’re running towards a financial goal, or a material one; we’re running from some horrible event in our past, or a person we were hurt by; running so fast, all of the time, that we don’t take the time to do what I do at church.

Breathe.  Reflect.  Be calm.  Remove the cobwebs and prioritize.  Figure out what is truly important.

Later that day, my husband asked me what I was running from.

“Excuse me?” I asked the tone I always assume when I feel my husband is making an accusation or a critical statement.

He was referring to the amount of traveling I’ll be doing in the next little while.  In a few days I am loading my children into our SUV and driving out to Michigan to see my brother and sister.  And I suppose it doesn’t make a lot of sense to him that I am doing this.  After all, neither of my siblings ever comes out to see me.  And most of the time when I drive out to see them, my brother and I get into some sort of fight that ends up in months of silence between us.  Why would I want more of that?

But my brother and sister have both had some trauma in their lives recently.   And frankly, they somehow seem less equipped to deal with the hard stuff that I’ve always been.  I’m not sure why that is.  For me, I thought the hardest thing I would do would be having gotten pregnant and 18 and have the father leave me.  And it was, until three years later.  That was when the woman who had supported me and helped me through that experience, my mother, was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer.  I was her caregiver at home, while finishing my student teaching and raising my two year old son alone.  She died eleven months after being diagnosed, and then I was left alone with a college degree, a part time substitute teaching job and a pile of bills.  My father moved across the country six months later, weeks before I started the only full time teaching job I could find; teaching in the inner city.   The next few years were a mixture of fear, despair and worry that covered me and everything I did like a blanket.

It was different for my brother and sister.  My sister was married and independent.  Where I was 21 at the time of my mother’s diagnosis, she was 27.  She was an adult, and had been for a while.  She had gone to college for a while but quit when she started dating the man who later became her husband.  When my mother was diagnosed it was devastating for her as well, but she wasn’t expected to provide round the clock care.  She was helpful, very helpful.  But not responsible for everything, like me.

My brother had dropped out of college and was floating from job to job when my mother was diagnosed.  He had partied his way through his late teens and early twenties, barely scraping by.  He had friends, and they drank and smoked through the weekends as lots of kids that age do.  When my mother was diagnosed he was working part time at a gas station.  He actually lived with us briefly but found his own place nearby later.  Again, it was an awful thing for him when my mother was diagnosed.  But the only responsibilities he had at the time were to himself.  He would show up, sometimes.  When he was able to.

I think for my brother and sister, while their lives too were sad and hard in the aftermath of our mother’s passing, it wasn’t going to change much in their lives.  They would still live where they lived, work where they worked, and go back home to a house that was going to be the same as it was before.  I didn’t have that.  Everything in my life changed.  It was horrible.  When I read back in my diaries or the words I’ve written here about it, I still can’t believe that I made it through, that I did everything that needed to be done.  That I went on to have a pretty normal life, despite the scars that I carry with me every single day.

Now, both of them are going through some pretty life altering experiences.  Different, for both of them, but still harder than much of what they’ve ever had to deal with before.  They are scared.  They are paralyzed.  They are unable to cope.  And so I am running, I suppose.  Running to give what I can in the hopes that it will help.  The same way that they “helped” me when I needed it, during my most difficult time.  I won’t know what it is like to live in either of their lives right now.  But I can be present, lend a hand or a shoulder or a few bucks, and try to make the hardest thing they’ve ever had to do a little easier.

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