He Isn't HImself Today

If you have a sick dad. A sick mom. A sick sibling. A sick husband or wife. Then this phrase is in your lexicon.

He isn’t really himself right now. She’s just not herself today.

I know I said these exact words, about my dad, dozens of times. Maybe even hundreds. Sometimes, I’d sit around with my siblings, my mom — old family friends — trying to understand. Trying to make sense of the disease. And we’d keep coming back to this phrase. To this idea. Whatever this disease is — it’s not him.

At the time, it felt like grace. It felt like we were letting my dad off the hook. Letting him get away with something by distinguishing between him and the disease.

But then I read Kafka’s Metamorphosis

I read this passage:

“Father, Mother”, said his sister, hitting the table with her hand as introduction, “we can’t carry on like this. Maybe you can’t see it, but I can. I don’t want to call this monster my brother.”

“It’s got to go”, shouted his sister, “that’s the only way, Father. You’ve got to get rid of the idea that that’s Gregor. We’ve only harmed ourselves by believing it for so long. How can that be Gregor?”

Kafka’s classic is everything I’d want GET BETTER to be. Funny, tragic, devastating. Disturbing. Kafka deftly weaves every important sickness theme into his novella. The sick house. The difficulty of communicating sickness. The difficulty of eating. Sickness as an opportunity to become more human.

But, most of all, in this passage and elsewhere — the embarrassment of sickness. The shame. The humiliation of it all, for the sick person and the family.

When I read this passage, I realized that saying the sickness wasn’t my dad — that wasn’t grace. That was judgment masquerading as grace. What I was really saying, what we were all really saying, whether we realized it or not, was that this new version of my dad. The sick version. He wasn’t good enough. Not for us.

But, worse than that, it wasn’t true. The vermin was Gregor. And the sick man was my dad. An imperfect, broken version of my dad, but still my dad. Not him happened much later — sometime in the very early hours of November 11, 2007 my dad became, really and truly, not himself.

Now, I’d welcome the sick him. I’d take the embarrassment of it. The shame of it. I’d even welcome back the putzing and the shuffling, just so long as he kept moving.