This is not an ordinary love story. We begin with death. My father is dead. He died homeless and disabled.
At first, my father’s death brought me comfort because his life made me uncomfortable. Months before his death, I traveled to the heart of Jerusalem and prayed for my father to find peace. I wanted God to bring an end to the psychological and physical suffering that haunted my father.
Selfishly, this prayer meant to save me, not him. To have a haunted father was to be a haunted daughter. I grew-up in the shadows of this peculiar haunting; every Father’s Day a manifestation of what never was and never could be.
One of the greatest hauntings happened at Denny’s. I met my father for lunch. Over greasy platters of food we discussed grandiose plans and plots of world domination. My father’s mania drove the conversation far away from ordinary life. Abruptly, he requested I serve him Holy Communion.
Angrily, I refused. This love story was not going well. God’s love comes to us in the breaking and sharing of bread. The pouring and sharing of the cup. Forgiveness of sin and new life. Yet, at that moment in time, the haunting is all I knew. God didn’t seem to care what happened at Denny’s.
My hatred of mental illness and its destruction of my family won out. I could not share this bread and cup with my father. The pain, anger and hatred were too great. I disappeared from the table. I shrunk back from this love. I denied him.
As time moves the living forward and leaves the dead behind, I think about this moment in time. Now I wonder, can you serve communion to the dead? Father, who art in heaven, will you share this bread with me? Will you take this cup from me?
Then, after twelve Father’s Days as a fatherless orphan, something happens. Last Friday night during an online church small group who read my book Blessed Are The Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Family and Church, the question comes. “What about the time when your father asked you for communion. Would you do anything differently if you could?” The question reawakens the haunting. Could the love story be saved after all?
I tell them the truth, which is the only way I know how to heal. “I was filled with anger. I resented his mental illness. I did not have compassion. I didn’t know then what I know now.”
My father’s symptoms of mental illness haunted his own knowing. His brain disorder didn’t allow him to acknowledge his own illness, preventing him from cooperating with treatment options. My father chose to believe in himself instead of believing in the mental illness. Now I understand this was the only choice he had.
“If I could do it all over, I would give him communion.” As I tell this small group of faithful followers of Jesus about my regret, I realize my heart is changed. The denial is gone. Instead there is repentance.
This is a love story about mental illness. When we are haunted it is hard to love. Yet sometimes the haunting is lifted and the shadows clear away just long enough for healing to deepen.
A question is asked. A chance at redemption. Would you show your father love if you could?
Yes. The answer is a million times yes. And in this deep desire and longing for unity with my father, an intimacy and closeness never known in this lifetime, there is holy communion.
In the dream of a second chance at breaking and sharing, I discover my father’s love. Life is broken and given for me. I take and eat of it. My father’s love is poured out. I take a drink of it.
In this holy communion, I am freed from the haunting. This is my Father’s Day love story.