Traveling Companions

When I agreed to live with dad while he had chemotherapy and radiation for lung cancer, I could have never anticipated who would have joined us on that journey. Beginning to travel to St. Alexius each day, first of all there was Reggie and Sam. Faithful doormen, they were the valets that greeted us each morning for over thirty mornings. What started as a polite and friendly greeting, the taking of my car keys in return for a ticket with a number on it, shifted over time as they learned more of dad’s story. We eventually shared first names, and then Reggie and Sam started often meeting us as we pulled up with a wheel chair for dad, or asking how long we would be so they could keep the car even closer for our leave-taking. About 4 chemotherapy and twenty radiation treatments in they began asking how we were holding up, and inquiring how many treatments were left. Dad and I began to learn about Reggie’s family, how he worked at the hospital as a valet, and his wife worked some at Jewel and some taking care of their grandson. Reggie and his wife usually arrived home at the same time, making planning for dinner easy. Together over the weeks we all shared in pondering the weather, baseball, how they would fair walking back and forth for cars in the rain or wind, and more. By the last week, parting ways each day had became a ritual of blessing one another, each of us in our own way through word or simple eye contact, smile or other embodied gesture.

Then there was Doris and Tanya, Dr. Boyer and several nurses that got dad each day from the waiting room for radiation treatment. Doris wasn’t having a great day the first day dad and I came. She seemed distracted and commented on how worn and shabby dads medical card looked. We didn’t know how six weeks with Doris might go. Yet we were glad for another lesson in being careful about first impressions. It quickly became abundantly clear everyone is entitled to not always be their “stellar best”. Doris was there for me on the phone and in person each morning when I came in with dad, helping me with a ‘learning curve” and to navigate a new world. She helped me to know the best way to connect with social workers to figure out how to get dad some equipment he might need down the line. She encouraged me when “the system” seemed full of red tape and I wondered how much to try and “cut it” or simply let it eventually give way. Doris was beyond appreciative when we shared oranges with her and the office from my tree in California when I first arrived. And by the last week of treatment, when the main hallway restroom I usually used when dad went into treatment was occupied and with two yet waiting, Doris said to me, “good grief, Erin, just use ours any time you want … don’t even go all the way out there!” Tanya was the main nurse dad saw on days we saw Dr. Boyer. Each Tuesday Tanya, who I accidentally had called Lori early on, was gracious with listening intently and answering any question we had with no air of it being silly, stupid, or unworthy of her time. I eventually called her, “Tanya who isn’t Lori”, and Tanya would laugh. I learned late in dad’s treatment schedule Tanya was moving and was able to share a place dad had recently taken pounds and pounds of paper needing to be shredded. Tanya is retiring in August, and I was glad to be able to let her know I was sure glad we got the last of her time of over thirty years in this profession. Her compassion and patience was another pure gift. Dr. Boyer sat across from dad from day one, connected on family, fishing and Chicago sports teams, being a mid-westerner and more. He patiently listened to dad, (and me) many times, and answered every question never giving any sense he had less than all day to be with just us. It felt clear to me he was one of those persons who didn’t just “choose a career”, but rather followed a call. No matter his language for it, he was clearly in a sense of life vocation … living into who he was meant to be. We should all be so lucky in that. As I told Dr. Boyer in my card the last day, and felt with all the persons surrounding us, “it is never about what we do. It’s always about how we do it … who we are in it.” Dad’s favorite was the nurses who helped him each day go into the radiation room, get him up and situated on the table, and then helped him off and brought him back out to me. The sensitivity and care they brought to how they spoke to him, and handled his body, having countless joint and mobility issues at this time in his life, meant the world to dad. 

They say it takes 2-3 weeks to “form new routines”. I wonder about the statistics on “forming new communities.” It amazes me the process of meeting and connecting with people, the weaving together of lives for particular weeks, months, or a lifetime that makes such a difference to each of us in this world. It’s like we are gifted with persons, woven into communities as cocoons of care for us to eventually emerge from changed, more colorful for having been a part of them. Segments of life containing sacred people weaving, persons sewn together with a gentle golden thread creating colorful patterns that seem to have an incredible capacity for light to shine through and move out in all directions. In the end, all involved carried by one another, something bigger, or both … into an endless gratitude that isn’t meant to be described with words. Like the light coming through the color pattern woven with the gold thread, it’s simply meant for basking in. The energy of both  – the gratitude, the light – quietly inspiring us to pass it on.

For your own Reflection:

  • Recall meaningful communities you organically became a part of over time, and then eventually moved on from. Give thanks for the gift of how you were woven together and the gifts you gave one another.
  • What communities are you a part of now? How or what kind of light is shining through? How are you cared for in sacred ways there?
  • How or where do you desire to be part of a “cocoon of caring” for others in this world?

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