As I am battling pneumonia and pharyngitis and having to depend on Douglas for everything, I looked up the word for today, and I immediately thought of a post. One of the most awkward moments of my life taught me a great lesson: Be careful of the people you hurt or harm, because you never know when or where you will need them.
I was sitting at my desk at work when I received an unexpected phone call. It was a social worker from a hospital in my hometown. She informed me that my father was being discharged from the hospital because the doctors could do no more to help him. I asked her why was she calling me, for I had not talked with my father in years and did not even know that he was in the hospital. There was a long silence, as she tried to decide what to do next. She finally said that I needed to come and get him from the hospital, find him a place to stay, and pay for his medications.
I told her that I was not responsible for my father, and that surely there was someone else that they could call, like the woman that he had been living with for nearly 20 years. She then told me that my father was dying of throat and tongue cancer, had maybe six months to live, was unable to speak, and he was unmarried with no other children known. That left me as his only surviving child as legally responsible for him.
I was flabbergasted to know that after all the years of wanting to be a part of my father’s life and needing to have him just once tell me that he loved me, that now I was expected to interrupt my life and my children’s lives to take care of a man who had not spent more than $50 on me my whole life, and $30 of that amount I had stolen from him (I wrote that story in an earlier blog). I am not sure what hit me harder, knowing that he was dying or that I was meant to spend time and money on him.
A long, very awkward moment passed between us, as she waited for me to make a decision. I could tell that she did not know how to respond to my rant about a neglectful father. I knew that she was just doing her job, but I, someone who craved the approval of others in all my ways and behaviors, needed her to understand why I was doing the unthinkable: refusing to help a very sick man in his time of need. I was embarrassed that I had put in her such an unenviable position. After I took a long breath, I told her that I would be there the the next morning, for I needed to find a ride to Chattanooga and someone to take care of my children for a couple of days.
I arrived at the hospital the next morning, and in one of those serendipitous moments in life, as I got off the elevator on Dad’s floor, the first person I saw was my mother, who was one of the housecleaning staff. She was assigned to my father’s floor, so she had known of his illness, but because of confidentiality rules, she had not told me.
As I complained to her about having to interrupt my life and take care of him, my mother, whom my father had physically and financially abused while they were married, stopped me in the middle of my new tirade. She said to me, “He’s your father, and he is a very sick man. Regardless of what he did not do, he needs you.” For my mother, all that mattered was that my father was a human being in need of help.
As we stood together, my mother cried for this man whom she had married as a seventeen-year-old girl, the man she thought was her knight in shining armor who would rescue her from a horrific life at her aunt’s house, but who had caused her so much pain and suffering. She cried for lost dreams and what might have been, if he had been a different type of man. As she had cleaned his hospital room over a course of weeks, she had found a way to forgive him. I realized that if she could forgive him, then I knew that I had to let go of my anger and do my duty as a daughter, as a child of God, and as a fellow human being.
When I walked into my father’s room, he could not speak to me, but he looked at me, and I told him that I was there and everything would be alright. I tried taking him home to the woman that he had lived with for nearly 20 years, but she was severely mentally challenged and she was afraid of sick people, so she would not let him back into her house.
I called my Aunt Ann, my father’s only sister, and told her the problem. She immediately told me to bring him to her house. I had his prescriptions filled, bought him some of those liquid meals, and took him to his new home, where he lived until he died, exactly six months after he was discharged from the hospital. When he died, I went to his funeral. People wanted to know why I did not cry, and I told them that I had no memories to cry over.
One good thing that happened was that he accepted Christ as his Savior before he died, at least that is what my aunt’s pastor believed occurred. I wonder, but God knows, and that’s all that is important. I hope for his soul’s eternal rest that he did.
This very awkward moment taught me that people need to be very careful and cognizant of whom they hurt or harm, because you never know when or where you will need those same people. As a sociologist, I have read that divorced fathers in their elderly years find it difficult to get much-needed help from their children whom they had abandoned or rejected. Many of these children do not feel any obligation to the men just because they helped to conceive them. What a sadness!
I think that often people don’t consider the big picture when they make decisions that hurt other people or negatively impact their lives, particularly the fact that often the people one mistreats on the way up may be the same people that person will need to lend them a helping hand on the way back down. We don’t know the future, but we can be sure that troubles will come and that we will need someone’s help, quite possibly the people we never considered that we would ever need.
That’s why the words of Luke 6:31 are so important for people to obey, “Do to others as you would like them to do to you.” It may be an old lesson, but it is still a valuable one today, for we all need help at one time or another. So, stop and think about how you talk to and treat other people, such as your co-workers, church members, or family members, and then, ask yourself whom you may need to reconnect with and make apologies to now, to avoid those awkward moments in the future.