Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Dear Angry Dad at the Hospital,

I saw you yesterday in the hospital cafeteria play room.  You sat in a booth, hunched over in your mechanics work shirt.  You were tired, ragged, and damn mad.  I saw your kids run around while you waited.  You were frowning and had your face buried in your phone.  I saw you yell at your children when they asked for attention.  All 5 of them.  I saw you scold your littlest one, who must have been 4 years old, for not knowing how to put his shoes on.  You yelled at the other kids who stole away with your Diet Coke.  I saw your teenage daughter's attempted for attention ignored, pushed off.  She shrugged it off and went back to her sisters and brothers.  I could see the weight of the world on your shoulders.  And I get it.

After all, people don't come hang out in the hospital play room for fun.  You're there because one of your children is sick.  This could very well be the worst day of your life, the day your child gets that awful diagnosis or the day chemo starts.  Maybe you had a fight with your wife this morning and this day that is dragging on and on and on has just gotten the best of you.  Surely you have to return to work to finish out your labor intensive day.

The truth is we've all been there.  All of us fellow hospital parents I mean.  We've waited those long waits.  We've succumbed to the temptation to get pissed at the world, pissed at the staff, pissed because we can't take one more day of hospital food.  We've been down and out.  Done.

Our healthy kids have waited too.  They've feasted on the crap they pass off as food in the cafeteria.  We've given into their incessant pleas for goodies and paid for it with the subsequent sugar highs... and lows.  We've watched TV till we saw double and left that same seductive box a little emptier in our souls than when we began.  We've gritted our teeth watching the nurses hurt our kids, for the good of our child of course.  We've waited.  For hours.  And hours.  And the moment we finally leave the room to grab a quick bite to eat, that elusive person for whom we've already waited 8 hours has come and gone.  Impeccable timing.

It's the waiting that's the worst part.  It's the sheer mental and physical exhaustion of just being there, doing nothing, waiting.

I get it.  I understand why you're so dang mad.  I've been mad too.  Just like you, I've wanted to bury my soul into useless things, to sit with my face illuminated by the glow of my phone or the TV.  Actually, I have done this.  And I've felt any residual hope, or life, or happiness sucked right out of me during those difficult low moments.  The truth is, these pointless things will not get us through, they can't fix what's broken.  Being too busy to watch our kids newest amazing acrobatics won't help anyone.  Not us, not them.  These times are one long, brutal fight.  A fight to keep afloat.  A fight to keep the faith.  A fight to not allow your soul to die off little by little. 

What you need dear Angry Dad, is to put your phone down.  To sit, waste time with your kids.  Watch their stupid little rolls and tricks.  Laugh at their silly antics and their game of chase.  Help your kids put their shoes on.  It is not only you who is being crushed by the gravity of the illness your sick child has.  It's your kids too.  And your wife.  And any other family you are lucky enough to have standing with you at this terrible time.  They are all crushed.  Down.  Angry.  And that is why you must stand.  You must be the strength that holds everyone together.  You HAVE to be present, to be the safe place your kids can go.  The person who can affirm the unfortunate reality of the situation while at the same time hugging that worried child and letting her know you're not going anywhere.  And especially your teenager.  If you don't hold her, I guarantee she'll find someone who will.

But know Sir, you are not alone.  All of us fellow hospital parents are silently behind you.  If nothing more, to just give you that familiar look of understanding.  But it is not us that you must rely; it is Him.  I have told you to stand, to be the glue.  But rest assured, it is not you who will be holding everyone together.  You are not strong enough.  You are weak.  And it is in this weakness that you will find Strength.  Allow yourself to be broken down, pleading on your knees, utterly demolished.  It is precisely then that your Strength will come, precisely at the moment you admit you can't do it that you will be rescued.  Your Strength will be Him.  He who carried the weight of the world on his shoulders.  He who sweated blood for you.  It is Him.  You no doubt have been given more than you can handle.  After all, if you are never stretched, how would you ever grow?  So, rely on His divine providence.  His unfailing fidelity.  You take the first step, He'll carry you the rest of the way.  This will not be easy, but just remember, His grace is sufficient.

A fellow hospital parent

P.S.  Please remember these little words of wisdom dear Angry Dad.  You may be the one telling them to me next time.
"The Dream of St. Joseph."  Trust, Angry Dad.  Just Trust.
Saint Joseph, pray for us!

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