From a family of Christian Scientists, my sister and I are poles apart with regard to faith. Hers is so strong that she once left the church because she felt it had lost its vigor. At twelve, I rejected any belief in spiritual healing. At least I did in my heart: I was a still a child and, as expected, joined the church that same year. I never converted to a different belief. I am defined, as are some works of art, by negative space. What I am is not a Christian Scientist.
When my dad, always more equivocal about religion than my mom or sister, started having seizures he saw a doctor who said that he had inoperable plaque in his carotid arteries and prescribed Dilantin to control the seizures. Old age and Dilantin eventually trashed his immune system and he contracted a form of lymphoma. He and I started going to dinner together. He was fond of musicals and we went to a few local productions. I wasn’t particularly close to my dad but it’s the last chance.
Then my dad caught pneumonia and, despite her convictions, my sister got him admitted to a hospital. Once there, he was a caution. He tore out IV’s, and seemed to regard the oxygen mask as a euthanasia device. As I wrestled to keep it on him, he kept asking me, “What’s happening?” I was surprised that a sick old man could be so strong and persistent.
Later that week my sister did something totally out of character: she broke a rule. I will always admire her for this. My dad had a miniature terrier that looks like dryer lint. My sister put her in a paper grocery bag to sneak in for a visit. The dog never gave herself away coming in or going out, a very smart little dog.
Eventually, the doctor told us the antibiotics weren’t working and that we had the choice of continuing treatment or of “keeping dad comfortable.” Morphine was keeping him comfortable and it was obvious that if “kept comfortable” he would never wake up again. While we were deciding, dad died.
I am not a Christian Scientist because it was obvious to me even as a child that sickness, injury, and death, not to mention cruelty, injustice, and tragedy are real and that people who say otherwise are fools or liars. But I thought that my dad was coming home. Everybody else, including the dog understood that he was not.
Even a simple belief may not be quite what it seems. Christian Scientists have to deal with death and so they do. I thought I was free of delusions about illness and dying, but I was not free from my childhood. One is not so easily free from that. I also thought that showing love to my dad was an obligation I was mature enough to carry out, if not something I felt in my heart, I had that backwards too.
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