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How I Learned I Am Not a Saint

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By Rosella Eleanor LaFevre     

On July 27, 2010, after a night of very little shut-eye -- as 5 a.m. approached, I awoke and after that, couldn't sleep a wink -- I accompanied my father to a surgical checkup at Jeanes Hospital. Five years before, bladder cancer had kicked his ass. Now, the cancer was back and this checkup, the second within a month's time, was to see just how bad it was.

The hospital staff let me see Dad when he got back from the initial recovery room. He shook and his face was a grayish pink, like hamburger left sitting in the grocery store for too long. There was a catheter in his penis with a bag to collect urine strapped to his leg. I felt my chest constrict with fear. The doctor took a good deal of tissue, Dad said.

I stood outside the curtained area where he sat and felt the sobs building inside me. Excusing myself, I walked quickly to the bathroom where I sat in a chair and cried. I've known for a long time my father is not invincible, but this vivid reminder left me trembling.

How would I deal with this? I'm only 19. What if his health continued to fail? Could I be his caretaker? I'm only 19, I thought again. I shouldn't have to deal with this.

doctors_pushing_gurney.jpgAfter a few minutes had passed, I told myself to suck it up. If I were sick, I'd want the people around me to pretend everything was going to be fine. Well, maybe not, but I thought I should make the effort.

I returned to my father, who was growing perkier and smiled even though we all knew he was in pain, and my nurturing instincts kicked into high gear.

That afternoon, I waited for my boyfriend Chris to get done work so I could fill Dad's prescriptions and pick up groceries.

On our way to the CVS to fulfill Dad's prescriptions, I told Chris to make a right. He didn't hear me and kept going. "Turn right here," I said. He did. As we navigated Juniata Park, I lamented my imperfections, noting that my mother always had such poise when dealing with things like this, and how I just wanted to be like my mother.

"You don't have to take care of everyone," Chris said. "You don't need to be perfect."

I tried to listen, tried to soak up the words and tried to believe that I didn't have to take care of everyone, that I didn't have to be perfect.

When we got to CVS, they wouldn't fill Dad's Percocet prescription because the doctor didn't put his name on it. What the hell? Dad would kill me, I was sure. When I called him, he said it was fine, it wasn't my fault, that I shouldn't worry.

Next we headed to the supermarket. With two or three items left on the shopping list, I realized I hadn't placed my seafood order -- Dad wanted shrimp, the thought of which made me nervous considering his condition -- and would now have to stand waiting for it to be made. I couldn't forgive myself for forgetting to order the shrimp first because I knew Chris was tired from a long day of work and wanted to get home to bed as soon as possible.

I was a mad woman that night. After stopping at Wawa to get cigarettes and coffee for the men in my life, Chris scooped up all the bags and carried them into the house. There I realized we'd forgotten to get the prescription.

On the way to CVS again, I was still berating my forgetfulness when I realized something. I was measuring myself against the golden standard my mother had set -- she always seemed to have it all together, doing everything for everyone with grace. And it was then that I realized I am not a saint.

It wasn't until some time long after that July evening, after Dad was through the darker days of this relapse, when I learned that giving is never easy and we shouldn't pretend it is. It was then that I realized that my mother, who I had kept on a pedestal, gave up the calm fa├žade after my parents separated because she just couldn't do it anymore. She was a saint, but it took a toll on her.

On that day in July, I learned I am not, and never would be, a saint.

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