Doing without the Eucharist: Cancer, faith, and family
August 15, 2016
Through my time in the Catholic and then in the Episcopal Churches, the Eucharist has been central to my worship. No matter how bad the homily/sermon, regardless of the music for Cantor versus choir, no matter how little I could pay attention due to active small children, receiving the Eucharist meant a great deal to me. Most of the time, we haven't lived close to a church with a daily Mass, but, even so, I tried to go to the occasional Daily Mass - whether at St. Leo's in Winston-Salem where we worshiped with the nuns before work or at St. Thomas More in Chapel Hill, which was just close enough to daughter's ballet class that I could get to the 5:15 Mass and back in time to pick her up (until the following year when her class was later).
After last year's cancer diagnosis, surgery, and very slow recovery, I'm not sure where my faith is now. I pray, but it's more along the lines of "Please?" than for any thought that my praying will change anything. Maybe I pray because, in some small way, it connects me to God. Or maybe I pray because it seems rude not to. Or maybe it's habit.
It's now been half a year since I received the Eucharist. That's where the cancer surgery recovery comes in.
I miss the Eucharist.
I won't go into the details of my current physical condition. It would be so easy to descend into a whine, which is part of why I haven't blogged these last few months. But here are the parts that relate to church:
- Anesthesia: My doctor said it could be months before I got back to normal due to my sensitivity to drugs. Besides making me tired for months, the anesthesia made me unable to multitask. Do you know how many things that affects? - Putting together a mental picture of the scene you're looking at, having a conversation and reacting to non-verbal cues - even having a conversation and just looking at the other person. I've spent lots of dinners conversing but staring at the tablecloth. Just walking across our yard was visually overwhelming. It was months before I could drive again. It's much better than at the end of the summer, but I still get overwhelmed very easily. All the different people and activity at church? I can't handle it yet. I've missed so many theater performances that my friends have been in the last few months because I can't handle that kind of overwhelm. I'm still also very easily tired and worn out. Just the drive (with older son driving) to church and back would wear me out, much less a service where there is so much to do right.
- Post-Operative Traumatic Stress Disorder: Yes, that's a thing, and it was my diagnosis back in October. Not only are things overwhelming, they're threatening. Younger son and I were having pizza before one of daughter's dance performances a month ago. The restaurant was very crowded, loud, and brightly colored (not harmoniously). You know in horror movies when all of a sudden a benign crowd turns menacing - usually the camera work goes slantways and the people elongate. That's what it felt like. I had to quietly talk myself out of the restaurant. After walking around in the peace of Durham streets, I was better. Again, I would find church overwhelming - particularly since they combined the two later services last fall so there would be lots of people I don't know, and it would be much more crowded. [POTSD, for me, also involves a lot of anger - to a level that I've never experienced before. Really, put it all together, and I feel like a stranger in my body.]
- Thyroid hormones. I had a partial thyroidectomy so that, hopefully, the remaining thyroid would give me what I need. My hormone levels have been going down since surgery. I find out in two weeks whether or not I need to go on artificial ones. That's also contributing to my exhaustion.
- Costochondritis (inflammation of the chest muscles and tendons): When this is bad, my chest won't expand for me to breathe normally. Trying to squeeze into a crowded church would make me tense up all of those muscles.
So, I don't have the energy to go to a service. I've considered trying to go to the Daily Service at the Episcopal Church in town, but I'm not sure I'm up for being a stranger at a formal church,* and I can't usually do more than one out-of-the-house activity a day or I'm exhausted, nauseous, and dizzy. Their Daily Services are on Wednesday, which is our busiest day.
So praying seems kind of unreal - actually, very little in the whole panoply of faith and church involvement (over the last 32 years) has had anything to do with my cancer treatment, I haven't received Communion for half a year, and I'm wondering what faith has to do with anything. Much of my church involvement seems like it's been whiffling activity - except for the parts I've enjoyed like choir and our Catholic small group. Church involves lots of running around - it's almost defined as that. I've always tried to do that, but I absolutely can't now.
I ran across a Buddhist-themed quote yesterday which prompted this post. I can't find it now, but it was along the lines of the importance of really looking at what is around you and giving thanks.
That, I can do.
What's interesting is that there isn't any reason that a follower of Jesus can't follow that idea. In fact, it's quite appropriate.
So where do I find my faith now?
In the face of my husband, who's been so patient and encouraging with my slow recovery, who jumps at any opportunity to make our living situation better for me, and who does acupressure on my chest muscles before bed every night so that I can breathe well enough to sleep.
In the face of my older son, who, even if he feels awkward when I cry, just sits there with me, caring written all over his face, and who also drives me all over the place.
In the face of my daughter, who cries with me, who has been so busy taking care of me, and who comes up with new ways to help every time I turn around.
In the face of my younger son, who is fiercely protective, has unlimited, highly expressive, teen-age sarcasm for anything (or anyone) that hurts me, and who has spent so much time looking out for me this last year.
* I did go to a wonderful, less formal, Christmas Eve Lovefeast at the United Church of Christ (6 minutes from our house)(where I've played flute before). Not unexpectedly, because this happens a few times a day, I had a brief period of exhaustion about halfway through. It was uncrowded enough that, if I had decided to, I could have just lain down on a pew to listen to the rest of the sermon. People there were really welcoming - which was wonderful because that was only about two weeks after my restaurant experience.
I'm so sorry you've had to deal with this! This is the first time I've ever heard about "Postoperative Traumatic Stress Disorder" and my God, it's so helpful to know there's a name/term/disorder for this very real experience. My own post-up journeys were awful...but shorter than yours has proven to be. I can't imagine the frustration and weariness this must put on your desire to live your life the way you have in the past, and the way you want to now. Wishing you energy and capacity and the understanding of others who don't understand (or can't understand) what you're going through. I hope there are many, many Eucharists in your future.
Posted by: Maryann | August 16, 2016 at 03:24 PM
I haven't done anything with my blog for almost 3 months so I didn't see your comment! Thank you so much!!!!
Posted by: M Light | November 06, 2016 at 08:36 PM