Monday, October 4, 2010

The Power Of A Voice

This morning in church, I closed my eyes to fully absorb the priest's deep, husky, richly-layered voice which emanated from the alter and, suddenly, I was transported back ten years, to a time in my life when I was buoyed by this same powerful voice, the one speaking to me now as I sat in my maple pew on this cold, rainy Sunday morning.

Ten years earlier, I had been up all night, uncomfortably spooning with my wife in a lazy-boy recliner in my son's hospital room, waiting anxiously for morning to come. Neither of us wanted to leave Cole's side. Neither of us wanted morning to come, either. Morning would bring surgeons and specialists who would transport my son to the operating room, to debulk and biopsy a neck mass discovered the day prior. A day prior that was filled with haunting, harrowing memories of being told, after several emergency CT scans, that my son had something "seriously wrong." The news of the tumors in his neck and chest, accompanied by swollen lymph nodes, had collapsed our world.

Finally, five a.m. arrived. The early light of another day, confirmation that the world wouldn't stop with our sorrow, began slivering between the room's vertical blinds. I rolled off the lazy-boy, covering my wife with our shared blanket, before gingerly tiptoeing to the crib. I watched my son's chest rise and fall, his complacent, peaceful face giving no indication of the cellular war raging in his tiny body.

I was mesmerized, surrounded by my son's clouds of pure innocence, as I clung to the bars of his crib, trying to make reason with this path my son was suddenly placed upon. I listened to his steady breathing. I watched his little eyelids flutter. I wondered at the shadows of beautiful angles that his bent limbs created under his blanket. No different than the day before and, yet, the knowledge of his devastating illness now changed everything.

Suddenly, around 6 a.m., the room's phone screamed out, ringing to interrupt my trance.

"Hello," I answered, supposing it was someone from the hospital's staff.

"Hello, Jim," the familiar voice spoke, "it's Father Tom." Of course, I knew it was Father Tom. He needed no introduction to my ears, ever. Just hearing his calm voice, resonating with love and concern, wrapped a blanket of comfort around my aching heart. He continued. "I'm calling to see if you or Karen need anything." I should have expected our beloved priest to be checking in with us during our turmoil. Just not this early.

"Father Tom," I whispered into the phone, "we're okay. We have a tough day ahead of us, though. Please just keep Cole in your thoughts and prayers through the day and we'll let you know, as soon as surgery is over, what we are facing."

"Jim," he spoke again, his voice steady and strong, "I don't think you understand. I'm downstairs in your hospital lobby. I'm on my way up to your room but wondered if you or Karen needed some coffee or a bagel, even."

"What, Father Tom?" I asked, confused. "You mean you are here? Right now? In the Children's Hospital?" The hospital was at least two hours from our home, which meant that he would have had to have left by 4:00 a.m. to get to us at this time.

"You don't think I would stay away on a day like today, do you, Jim?" he asked. I couldn't answer, my wonder and thankfulness of his presence choking my words. A few moments of silence followed as he waited patiently for my answer. "No," I finally said, before continuing, "and Father Tom, thank you."

With that phone call, on that fateful day, Father Tom's voice ingrained itself into my memory.

And from that simple phone call, Father Tom's magnificent voice continued to harmonize much of the discord in my life. That day alone, in which Cole came through his surgery, Father Tom stood in a circle with us in the family room, hands joined, offering that consoling voice in prayer and reassurance. Later, when I asked him "Why? Why? Why?" my son was chosen to bear his burden, to have to fight for his life at a young age of two, his voice cracked, one of only a few times I have heard this. "I can't answer that, Jim," he had said, "but I can only pray that at some point in Cole's life, on his journey, the answers of why will become more evident." Yes, Father Tom, I can see some of those answers already.

Through those trying years, including an additional year of chemotherapy for Cole when he came out of remission and my mother's eventual death from leukemia, Father Tom, his voice in tow, continued to grace all of our lives. Whether at our home for lunch or dinner, or whether a Sunday morning sermon, his distinguished, distinctive voice, with its classy delivery, never failed me. Even before delivering my mother's eulogy, he approached me. "The grace of God is with you," he had said, clasping my face between his hands at her funeral, "you will do your mother proud as she sits there on your shoulder with you."

Unfortunately, as with our Catholic religion, priests can be reassigned to another parish after several years of service, and this was no different for Father Tom. He moved over an hour away, assigned to another parish, too far for us to travel for services . We did surprise him one Sunday but, otherwise, relied on emails, phone calls, and rare dinners to catch up. It wasn't the same.

I had lost my spiritual guidance, of sorts. I missed the power of his voice and wise words. And I missed my friend.

Thankfully, though, Father Tom informed our family at the beginning of this past summer that he would be returning to our area, to a parish just twenty minutes from our home-base parish. I couldn't wait for the day to arrive.

Today, finally, was that day. Today, on this gloriously cold, autumn day, I was blessed to sit in church, beside my healthy son, my lovely daughters, and my beautiful wife, listening to the voice of an angel.

The missing voice that I couldn't replace in my life.

The voice of Father Tom.

As always, big thanks for reading. Anybody's voice in your life that you rely/relied on? See you midweek...


Lynda Halliger-Otvos said...

Beautifully told; thank you.

Pissed Off Patient said...

Powerfully told.

So glad Cole is okay.


Heather said...

We had a similar situation with Jack's first surgery. Our friend, and pastor, arrived to sit with us in the hospital at O'Dark Thirty.

God, clearly gives these men a powerful heart full of love. This is a huge blessing for US! ;)

Give Cole a hug from Jack!

rlbates said...


littlepretendnurse said...

What a blessing! Again, a tender mercy! Have a great week.

littlepretendnurse said...

What a blessing! Again, a tender mercy! Have a great week.

Katie said...

This brought a great smile to my face. I tease that I have a goal of being able to identify the entire campus by voice, so I don't have to get up and nonchalantly walk through the kitchen every time someone comes into our apartment. The regular visitors I know, but one day I heard a familiar voice and couldn't place it. However, just hearing it made me excited and left me with a sudden, overwhelming desire to investigate. I was glad I did.

Then there's the sound of my dad's voice... When Jess and I were in a MVA a year ago, I didn't cry on the scene, when talking to the responders, when calling for a ride back, nothing. Calm, cool, and collected. Then I called Dad. Over the phone he knows I'm upset before I do. It's down-right annoying. But a blessing, too.

Thank you for representing the church well. :-)

<>< Katie

Anonymous said...

This was beautiful and made me cry. Thank you!

Tiff said...

awesome resonating post Jim!!

Kate said...

There are those voices. The ones that ground us. Mine's name is Jim and he's no longer here to talk me through The Crazy, but just remembering it helps sometimes.

Karen said...

This, to me, is one of your most moving stories. Bless Fr. Tom for the Godly, unselfish man he is. I'm glad he'll soon be physically closer to you and your family.

911RN said...

Beautiful writing- such a heartfelt story- unabashed honesty oozed from each and every line!

I am happy for you that you have the powerful voice of your spiritual compass back in your life... closer to home.

God Bless Father Tom.

Empress Bee (of the High Sea) said...

i am so happy for you that he is nearby now. what a blessing...

beautifully told, as always.

smiles, bee

SeaSpray said...

Oh Jim beautifully written.

I am so sorry you all had to go through that. You certainly have been blessed to have Father Tom in your lives and I am sure that goes both ways.

Your post also brings out the importance of having an extended family ..being part of the church. And of course ..extended families can come to us in other ways too.

Your priest sounds like a wonderful, compassionate man. I think it helps to have a constant in our lives ..special people that minister to or mentor us. And we pass it on too. Hopefully the ripple of good continues forward.

I know how you felt hearing his voice. Although my situation was hardly as serious.

It was back in 04 when all this urology stuff was new and I had gotten the 1st stone and stent and stent out 2 weeks later. That night I had the most excruciating pain, was so scared (I didn't know 3 more stones were left and stuck) and had gotten sick and was crying when I called the uro doc a second time. He yelled at me "GO to the ER then!", and so on top of all that ..I thought I did something wrong by calling him.

Anyway ..our church has an internet prayer chain and so while en route ..I called the church. I knew they'd be having their Wednesday nite service and hoped someone could pick up in the office to take my request.

Pastor Tom answered. He was so kind and he even prayed with me on the spot. Mr SeaSpray was driving, I was writhing with intense kidney stone pain eyes were closed with the cell phone pressed up against my ear as I absorbed his deep ..soothing ..and authoritative voice. Hearing his voice and knowing he cared enough to stop what he was doing to pray with me and his words - the prayer ..was like a healing balm being poured over my head ..enveloping my body. His words caused me to feel safer and it his presence over the phone caused me to feel peace amidst the raging storm of physical assault going on to my mind and body. I will never forget those moments in the car and the impact Pastor Tom had on my mind, body and spirit that night.

I'm so glad your son is well now.

Thank you for this post.

Anonymous said...

Thank you...I've been reading your posts with eagerness for some time now, but this is one that made me glad I have my own versions of Fr. Tom in my life. May the Lord continue to bless you with words that touch hearts.

Rositta said...

That is a beautiful story Jim you are lucky to someone like Father Tom in your life. As an aside, I had to check out a Greek ER yesterday, nothing like the one you work in sadly. Have a great day...ciao

Smalltown RN said...

this story hit very close to home and brought a tear to my eye. Angst and joy all mixed together....a story well told Doc!

jessica said...

what a wonderful post jim. your posts never fail to touch my heart and bring my emotions to the surface. i have a son who is 2 1/2 and i could not imagine being in your shoes, thank God for your Father Tom.

Anonymous said...

What a blessing! Fr. Jim married all of my sisters and buried both of my parents, which was a blessing and a comfort to our family. May we all have someone in our lives who we can rejoice with in glad times and seek solace with in sad times.

Anonymous said...

I love your story, enriched by the Catholic faith.

Vicyoria said...

I recently found your blog and have been reading feverishly ever since. However this post made me stop and literally cry. To be blessed the way you are is an immeasurable blessing. I wish I had the kind of support you do.
You are a very talented writer and I'm sure an even more talented compassionate physician
May the Lord continue to bless you and yours