Tuesday, June 28, 2016


The first time my father lost his mind, it was a Tuesday.

I stood in line at the concession stand of a junior high football game, staring blankly at the smiling booster club moms and dads, while on the phone, my own father spit curses and lies about my mother and, later, about me.

The first time I did not recognize my father's voice, it was a Tuesday. 

The first time I ever had a panic attack, it was a Tuesday.

The first time I ever considered my own death, it was a Tuesday.

The first time I ever prayed for my own father's death, it was a Tuesday.

I have a real and palpable anger about Tuesdays.


Looking back, almost a decade later, I know now that wasn't really my father on the phone. It was a plague of chronic disease, financial despair, and unregulated medication.

It was a man whose brain was betraying him, blurring the lines between reality and fantasy; a wrecking ball of delusions and conspiracy and rage.

It was a mind, once full of joy and song lyrics and the names of every person he ever met, now tormented by even the simplest of tasks.

It was a distortion; a funhouse mirror reflection of the man I had cherished my entire life.

It was a jailer of logic and a thief of memories.

It was a havoc I would not wish on my own worst enemy.


There were many other horrors that would happen in the years between that phone call and my father's death. Some happened on Tuesdays, I'm sure, but when there are so many sadnesses and fears, the calendar fills up quickly, and other days have to suffice. 

But when my father died, he died on a Tuesday, just as I had prayed those hundreds of Tuesdays before.

I think about that prayer often. I've spent a great deal of time and money, on therapists and vacations and cheap bottles of wine, trying to come to grips with that prayer. How a daughter can pray such a thing for her hero. How I could pray for an end to the madness however God might see fit. Maybe He would take him to spare all of us; maybe He would take me, at least, to spare me. Either way, I prayed.

My guilt is that I prayed that prayer out of anger and selfishness. My shame is that it wasn't the only time I prayed it. I war with that shame often still.

Over time, my anger and frustration transferred from my dad to his disease, Parkinson's and its terrible little sidekick, Dementia. And although I eventually forgave my father the grievances he had caused, I still found myself praying often for the end. An end to this cruelty. An end to the indignities he endured. An end to his confusion and tears and pain. 

So, in the exquisite and beautiful circles of life, his life ended on a Tuesday, but my pain did not.

I have a real distrust of Tuesdays.

There have been several deaths this half year that have affected me more than I expected. Perhaps it's just the feeling of loss in general. Perhaps it's the ways they are connected back to my father -- the music he loved, or the storytelling he so encouraged, or the afflictions that tormented both him and my family. I was told that I would often see my father's death in the deaths of others, especially in those whose endings feel so familiar.

Last night, I read that Pat Summitt, one of my idols in education and sports and being a badass woman, was dying. This news hit me profoundly, and I found myself praying, yet again, for a quick end. 

There is something to be said for all of our old stories about knights and warriors and the dignity of a clean death. That's something especially foreign to those suffering from dementia -- a clean, quick death. It's a nice idea -- romantic, even -- but death, no matter how swift, is never clean, and I felt all of my old guilt rising again as I prayed. 

I thought of her and my father, two people who never met but still shared a space in my life. Two people who share the bad luck of a bad disease. Two people known for kindness and teasing and hard work and their bright blue eyes. Farm kids who came from nothing. One grew into a legend, having everything and more; one was everything and more -- a legend --  to me.


What I pray for, I've come to learn, is not just a prayer for him but a prayer for me. An end to my own confusion and tears and pain. I think it must be what so many people experience when they watch a loved one slip away, heartbreakingly slowly, over time.

It's hard to reconcile the selfless act of letting go with the selfish want of being free, and pain is a parasite feasting off such conflict.

A few weeks ago, I read a passage from a book, A Monster Calls, a children's book that (like so many books for children) is really meant to teach us all. It stuck with me and comforted me, and I've gone back to its earmarked page many times. So in addition to my prayer, I read it over and over, first in a whisper, feeling silly and useless, alone in my bed; then out loud and steady in hopes that somehow God would bring it to others.

The article had said that her family had stopped accepting visitors and that she might only have days left to live. But I knew, without question, what day my heartache loves best. 

So it was that I woke up this morning, a Tuesday, to say goodbye yet again.

I have a real loneliness and an ache for healing on Tuesdays.

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