CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith and Life for the Years of Winter
I just made a connection between two statements that were ten years apart.
The first was my mother telling me what an ugly baby I was, when I was 54. The second was my father telling me that I was not really his child, when I was 64.
My father inherited colon cancer from me. I had it, with the attendant surgery and chemotherapy, when I was 51. My father got it a year later, when he was 82, with the attendant surgery and chemotherapy. The difference was that he had a colostomy.
No surgeon near where they lived would attempt a temporary colostomy. They said the tumor was too near his anus. The surgery could not be reversed. He would always have to have a colostomy bag. But the young surgeon in the little town where I lived said “No sweat. I can reverse it in 3 months.” Which he did.
My parents lived with Helen and me for three months, getting my father ready for surgery, having the surgery, recovering. They had never gotten along with each other. There may have been two or three pleasant days in the 69 and ½ years of their marriage, but if so, I was not around to witness them, including the three months they lived with us. Living in the same room together in our house, with the added stress of cancer, did nothing to improve their relationship. It did a lot for my marriage, though. Helen and I would lie in bed together at night and hug each other and cry.
Things were different during the days my father was in the hospital, but not better, for being in our house without Daddy to fuss at allowed Mother’s weirdness to come out in other ways. For instance, she was afraid of cats. One day she saw one walking on the street as she was coming back from downtown, so she stopped at the funeral director’s house and asked him to bring her home in his car. He did. We lived next door.
The time came for Daddy to come home from the hospital. Or so the hospital informed me the morning they wanted to discharge him. “But first,” they said, “someone will have to come here to take colostomy training.” Normally that sort of thing fell to poor Helen, but she was thoughtlessly off teaching school. It had to be me, the least likely candidate in the world to learn how to care for a colostomy. Least likely except for Mother, who would not spit on Daddy if he were on fire, and who was phobic about all body fluids, and plenty of other things.
I had just recovered from cancer myself, almost, and was not sure how long I had to live. I was pastoring a recalcitrant church that was giving me a hard time. My mother had been driving me crazy for three months. I was very close to crying. Colostomy training was the last straw, or so I thought. I was going out the back door to get into the car when my mother said, “Did I ever tell you what an ugly baby you were?”
Now I have put the two together, my father’s statement that I was not his child, and my mother’s that I was an ugly baby. If she had given birth to me by some other man, who was not her husband, that would be an ugly outcome for her. And it would make sense that all those years later Daddy would finally tell me I wasn’t really his child.
I was a darned good son. I was the one who took care of our parents for years while my siblings lived at ease in tropical climes. [I don’t blame them; just envy them.] Yeah, maybe I was a bastard, but I draw the line at that ugly baby thing. I’ve seen pictures. I was adorable.
I am finally at peace, and uneasy about it.